December 2, 2004

What If?

by Chris Feeney

What if someone in your neighborhood spent $150,000 on Christmas lights? Unless I owned the local retail store where they bought them or had stock in the power company, I’d probably be a bit concerned. No, I wouldn’t be worried about the bright lights or the traffic the display would cause from local tourists flocking to enjoy the scenery. I’d be bankrupt because my wife would be trying to keep up with the neighbors.

Okay, maybe I like holiday decorations too. Who doesn’t? Our neighborhood is already beautiful, with lots of lights and other decorations. Sure there may be a little teasing going on between the households. I stopped to admire one neighbor’s work, during the installation process. I couldn’t resist making a little joke, referring to the decorator as Griswold, the main character from one of my favorite holiday movies, Christmas Vacation. The character, portrayed by Chevy Chase, installs some 25,000 lights on his home, leaving no spot unlit.

But apparently a neighborhood in California doesn’t see it like we do. Nearby residents shouted a united bah humbug at one holiday spectacular in their midst. I wasn’t just pulling that dollar figure out of midair. A couple in Monte Serano had $150,000 invested in a popular home holiday display. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to get the neighbors in the spirit. They complained to the city administration that visitors to the residential neighborhood were invading their privacy and causing problems, forcing a stop to the show. It wasn’t enough that the homeowners hired a private security guard to direct traffic to help alleviate the problem. The neighbors forced the issue.

I guess I don’t understand. I’m not even going to go into the people’s motives. I’m just surprised a city can dictate what a landowner can display on private property. I understand that laws do dictate what signage you can place on private property adjoining roadways. But a person could just as easily generate increased traffic by pruning your trees in a unique manor, or planting beautiful flowers. I guess this town doesn’t have an annual fall tour of the foliage.

In this particular case, a law was passed to require a city permit for any displays to be left up for more than three consecutive days. I’m curious to know if that means every person that puts out a nativity scene in their yard or places a couple of strands of lights on the railing of the front porch, will have to go through the paperwork they installed to prevent this one larger spectacle?

Just like any law, not all residents of the town were in favor of the council action. Even the mayor went on the record to say he opposed the move and noted that the holiday display would be missed as it was a public service for all those visitors that traveled to view it each year.

But regardless of the how, or the why, gone are the surfing Santa Claus, the illuminated giant candy canes and the Christmas caroling mannequins. The display has been reduced to one single decoration, a giant 10-foot tall green Grinch who is pointing his finger at one neighboring home in particular, where the complaints originated.

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