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Legislation or Education: Which Fixes Quality of Life Issues?

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

City Councilmember Jose Peo

As temperatures warm and daylight extends into evening, quality of life issues take on more importance.

Many residents remember last summer and the boom of fireworks well into the night.

This spring, neighborhoods have been overrun with illegal dirt bikes and ATVs buzzing down streets. Already, there have been two fatal accidents – one was the death of a child.

In each case, neighbors may be saying, “There ought to be a law.”

An attempt by Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart to prohibit the sale of sparklers in the county was pulled for lack of support.

Now, City Councilman Jose Peo wants to introduce legislation that would increase fines for using the illegal recreational vehicles on city streets and for claiming them from the impound lot.

Peo is a member of City Council’s safety committee, which would draft the legislation with the help from the city’s attorney. It would have to pass the committee before it could go before the full council. He said he’d to see the legislation on the agenda at the April meeting.

Peo said he has received complaints from residents and business owners demanding action. He said his legislation mirrors that of Albany’s, which imposes a $650 fine for use and a $2,350 redemption fee. “That puts the fee at $3,000 for a little bit of fun.”

Current city code makes it illegal to ride a dirt bike or ATV on city property unless expressly allowed in state law. Violations are subject to “a fine not exceeding $150 or imprisonment not exceeding 15 days, or by both such fine and imprisonment, or by a penalty of not less than $25 nor more than $500 to be recovered by the City of Rochester in a civil action.”

Peo also wants the Rochester Police Department to be able to use drones to locate hot spots for ATVs and to provide a portal where residents can submit addresses where the vehicles are stored. Peo said this would eliminate high-speed pursuit.

At a time of demands for police to have less of a presence, this legislation would seem to want police to be around more.

“Not a lot of people are asking them to do less,” said Peo, who represents the northwest quadrant. “A lot of loud people are asking them to do less. A lot of quiet people are emailing us, messaging us, asking us for our police to step up.”

The issue of dirt bikes has been a problem off and on for a few years. Peo said education isn’t enough to stop the use of the illegal vehicles in parks and on streets and trails.

But it’s an approach Barnhart would suggest, based on her experience with proposed legislation that would have banned sparklers.

“I respect the fact that Jose Peo is trying to tackle this problem,” she said. “I think we need a holistic approach,” she said.

As for her failed attempt, she said removing the sparklers from store shelves would have been only one component of a solution. “It wouldn’t have been the only thing that was necessary. The sparklers contributed to an overall anything-goes culture of fireworks, but they weren’t the main driver of the discomfort that neighbors were experiencing with noise.”

Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart

Her legislation, which she pulled after determining it would not get enough support from her caucus or from Republicans, would not have imposed more criminalization. She said that would be a mistake and she’s not convinced that harsher penalties achieve the goal.

Barnhart represents the 21st District, which includes Beechwood, North Winton Village, Neighborhood of the Arts and EMMA.

She said it’s important to discuss the issue of dirt bikes, and the conversation needs to include police, neighbors and riders to learn why they are on the streets and if they are aware of the danger and disruption they cause.

She said she didn’t think she’d introduce legislation at the county level. But she would want to be part of a task force to find a solution.

“I do think the dirt bike and fireworks issues are somewhat similar. These are products that are causing harm,” she said. “They’re a nuisance and they’re also very dangerous. So the question is how do we do that mix of education and enforcement without doing further harm to the community? I don’t have any answers. I think we need to have that conversation. … It’s going to be a long summer if we don’t solve these issues.”