If all goes well
tonight Sunday, the Penguins will hoist the Stanley Cup and I’ll down some of Lord Stanley’s brandy with Arnold Slick from Turtle Creek and maybe I’ll buy Sam and his dog a drink too as I’ll be in Yinzer heaven.
Having grown up in Pittsburgh, though, I know all too well that every championship celebration includes a few jagoffs who chugged too many IC Lights looking to light something on fire.
In an effort to curb the incendiary desires that might arise while ushering in a fourth Stanley Cup title, the City of Pittsburgh has opted to seize residents’ porch furniture.
Starting on Wednesday, city crews began taking couches, mattresses and other furniture from residents’ porches in hopes of removing “fuel” for post-game fires.
“The less fuel that’s out there, the better off we will be,” said Pittsburgh Chief of Operations Guy Costa. “The city even plans to empty or lock newspaper boxes so revelers will have less fuel to set on fire.”
The City plans to store any furniture seized from porches at an undisclosed location until after the Stanley Cup finals are over, which might not be for another week. Once the Cup finals are finished, residents can reclaim their furniture and presumably waste time, gas, and physical effort doing so.
While attempting to avoid turning the city into a giant bonfire is a laudable goal, if the thought of the government entering your property to seize your belongings doesn’t sit well with you, you’re not alone.
The Founding Fathers were also afraid of the government taking private property, which is why we have the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It provides that:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
That last part, known as the Takings Clause, prohibits the government from taking property without paying the owner — exactly what the City of Pittsburgh is doing when it takes citizens’ furniture.
The City claims that it is justified in seizing people’s furniture due to a local ordinance enacted in 2009 banning citizens from placing upholstered furniture designed for indoor use in an outdoor setting. The city ordinance prohibits “any furniture that contains attached filling material and is used or intended to be used for sitting, reclining or resting indoors” from being placed on “any front, side or back porch, patio, deck or balcony that is not closed in to shield it year round from the elements.”
The law, introduced by Democrat City Council President Bruce Kraus, was meant to protect the public’s health as such furniture can draw vermin and other pests. Apparently, it can also become fuel for impromptu championship celebration fires.
Pittsburgh is somewhat justified in taking the porch furniture as the modern trend in U.S. Courts is to permit government “takings” when it will aid the general public welfare, which the Supreme Court indicated is a “broad and inclusive” standard in Kelo v. New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005).
Although Pittsburgh has a valid “public welfare” reason for seizing porch furniture, it still must compensate citizens for taking their property. Placing a monetary figure on an old, rain-soaked couch is no easy task. Some are likely worthless while others, such as the one broken in by Mt. Lebanon’s finest on Park Entrance Drive, are priceless to the teenagers who grew up with it.
In the end, most Pittsburghers likely won’t care and many are probably glad some eyesores are off their neighbors’ property. However, even in the exuberance of a Stanley Cup championship, yinzers should not forget that they have rights under the Constitution that protect them from government intrusion.
Happy couch burning Pittsburgh.
Steve Silver is a former sports reporter for the Las Vegas Sun and is now a lawyer in the worst city for a Penguins fan to live — Philadelphia. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@thelegalblitz.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.