Thanks to Southview Garden Center for their support.
Like any local government, West St. Paul has a few weird ordinances. They can make you scratch your head and wonder why. Sometimes you realize it’s likely someone actually did this weird thing, and now they’ve left their mark. So we read through the West St. Paul city code and offer some of the weirdest things on the books.
For example, West St. Paul declares a number of things to be a nuisance that affect “public morals and decency.” It’s what you might expect, cracking down on gambling, alcohol, and sex. But it’s also kind of funny to see the phrase “houses of ill fame” in city code.
We’ll start with general weirdness, but in future installments we’ll look at weird sign rules and weird park rules.
First and foremost, we’re not lawyers. It’s entirely possible we’re misreading or misinterpreting the legalese. We linked to the relevant section, so read it and decide for yourself.
Second, weird, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Weird doesn’t mean the ordinance necessarily should go, it’s just, well, weird. Sometimes code is outdated or worded strangely or oddly specific. Sometimes there’s a good reason for that. And this is not an exhaustive list. You could offer your own suggestions for weird ordinances.
Finally, the goal here isn’t to mock West St. Paul. In fact, we found a few strange discrepancies and instead of listing them here and poking fun, we actually notified the city and suggested changes. More than anything, it’s good to know what’s in your city code. For example, no operating power equipment between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.—that’s helpful to know.
10 Weird Ordinances in West St. Paul
- Ducks: That stereotypical image of the old man sitting on a bench and feeding the ducks? Not so fast in West St. Paul. A ban on feeding waterfowl and nuisance wildlife makes that old guy feeding the ducks a lawbreaker. (92.09)
- Profanity: Swearing in school is illegal in West St. Paul. The code actually prohibits “foul, offensive, obscene, or indecent language” on the grounds of a public school. So it’s broad enough to cover that potty-mouthed tirade by parents at a school sporting event. (130.04)
- Bus benches: There are more rules than you might expect restricting “courtesy benches”—benches for people waiting for the bus. An especially weird one is that the city won’t grant more than 50 courtesy bench licenses in a single year (wouldn’t want a swarm of benches). But perhaps the best is that we regulate bus bench ads: “No advertising for liquor, beer, or anything immoral, obscene, or political.” Nice that they lump the political in with the immoral and obscene. (111.02)
- RVs and cars: You can’t live in a car, trailer, or RV. The RV portion specifically says an RV can’t be used for “living, sleeping, or housing purposes,” but that wasn’t enough, so in 2016 they added an ordinance that no vehicle can be “used as a shelter or enclosure of persons and their effects for the purpose of living therein” whether it’s on public or private property. Why? Well, it’s a way to criminalize homelessness. Though you can also use it as an excuse to make your in-laws get a hotel and not camp out in the RV. (72.05)
- Massage therapy: There are quite a few ordinances for massage parlors, and for good reason given the history of exploitation. But one especially weird thing is the specificity of the dress code for massage therapists: “Short sleeved shirts, skirts no shorter than three inches above the knees, no cleavage showing, nails trimmed and neat, hair pulled back and closed-toed shoes.” (111.04)
- Pot-bellied pig: While you’re allowed three dogs or cats and six chickens (thanks to our recently relaxed chicken ordinance), our ordinances specifically limit pot-bellied pigs to two per home—or “two animals deemed similar by the police chief.” That addition to the “farm and other small animals” ordinance came in 2010 thanks to Daisy Mae, our famous blind Vietnamese pot-bellied pig who’s appeared in National Geographic. (90.08)
- No tips: Seems kind of rude, but there is no tipping of live performers at a strip club. Of course West St. Paul doesn’t have any strip clubs, so it’s kind of a moot point, but there are quite a few stringent ordinances with limitations for any kind of sex-related establishment. (111.08)
- Hours: The city sets very specific hours for certain types of businesses. So at 10:15 p.m. you can’t pawn something to pay for a massage and then get a bite to eat from the food truck. The earliest they can open and latest they close are set by ordinance:
- Sex-oriented shops: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., closed on Sundays and legal holidays (111.08)
- Pawnbrokers: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas (111.07)
- Tattoo shops: 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. (111.06)
- Massage parlors: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. (111.04)
- Food vending: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (111.01)
- Fire: Speaking of hours, a recreational fire must be extinguished by midnight. Late night s’mores must be a gateway behavior. (91.06).
- Rental density: Depending on what you think of it, this one might be more unique than weird. In 2011, West St. Paul passed its rental density ordinance, which states “no more than 10% of the single-family lots on any block shall be eligible to obtain a rental license.” The city even has a handy map showing the rental density and existing licenses. This one is controversial. Supporters say it helps maintain home values and avoids the “negative perception” that supposedly comes with a high number of rentals. Opponents say, well, all kinds of things. Here’s a decade-old YouTube rant about it. (150.037)
Watch for future installments of weird ordinances in West St. Paul: signs and parks.
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We really appreciate your “news” and your sense of humor. We are wondering about any rules or ordinances about houses not being lived in and are essentially empty. We have two very livable homes on our block of 1219 Galvin and lament often that they have sat there 10-20 years? Can we do something about this waste of resources?
As long as the owner is maintaining the property, I doubt there’s much the city can do. Your best bet would be to contact the city and ask if there’s anything they can do (cuz I could be wrong). I suppose you could report them for every tiny violation and maybe fines stack up and convince the owner to sell—but if it’s been 10 to 20 years, I bet the city already watches it pretty closely and the owner does the bare minimum.