Bizarre Northern California Laws You Never Knew Existed

Photo: Pixabay and Wikipedia Commons

Every January, a plethora of new ordinances go into effect. This year, the Golden State added new data privacy protections, cap-and-trade environmental policies, mandatory paid sick leave, and a variety of other rules that join some wacky laws that were slipped in over time but never taken off the books. In a state where “sunshine is guaranteed to the masses” and licking toads was once illegal, it’s no surprise that many Northern California city laws are bizarre. Here are a few that will make you scratch your head wondering what inspired the need for these regulations in the first place:

San Francisco:

While it’s becoming more well-known that Chapter 6 of the city’s housing code doesn’t allow you to store your own stuff (besides an automobile) in your “public and private storage garages” unless you pay a fine of up to $500, there are plenty of other interesting policies. Some of my favorites include: a law prohibiting used underwear to be employed in wiping off cars in a car wash, the regulation requiring elephants walking down Market Street to be wearing leashes, and the rules against piling horse manure higher than 6 feet on any street corner. Of course, being a media savvy metropolis, San Francisco also holds a copyright on the city’s name!

San Jose:

The heart of Silicon Valley was once known by another name—“The Valley of Heart’s Delight”—thanks to the abundant local agriculture. So, in a way, it makes sense that this city pays close attention to all residents, including animals. While a previous regulation prohibited more than two dogs or cats per owner, the current laws are still targeted against cat ladies: “It is unlawful for any person to maintain, at any dwelling unit, more than any of the following combination of cats and dogs: a) Zero (0) adult dogs and five (5) adult cats; or b) One (1) adult dog and four (4) adult cats; or c) Two (2) adult dogs and three (3) adult cats; or d) Three (3) adult dogs and two (2) adult cats.” But can you have more than four adult dogs and one adult cat? The law is unclear to this layperson. Sources were also unable to verify the old law that you may not sleep in your neighbor's outhouse without permission, but I’d like to believe it existed.

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Carmel:

Clint Eastwood helped the city of Carmel in Monterey County “feel lucky” in 1986 when he became mayor. Why? He helped overturn one of the more infamous city ordinances that prohibited the selling and eating of ice cream on public streets in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Unfortunately for the beautiful tourist town, the 1920s municipal code banning women wearing shoes having heels more than 2 inches in height or with a base of less than one square inch unless the wearer has obtained a permit for them still stands. Clint Eastwood also continued the policy of allowing no chain restaurants in the city limits. There are also no listed addresses, parking meters, street lights, or sidewalks outside of Carmel's downtown commercial areas.

Pacific Grove:

Of course, the unusual regulations in Monterey County extend beyond Carmel. Known as “Butterfly Town U.S.A.,” this city protects their beautiful namesake in many ways. One example? You can be fined up to $1,000 for what is deemed “molestation of butterflies.” Frankly, I’m not sure I’d like to know what “molestation” means here.

Chico:

The most populous city in Butte County, California is probably best known for two things: Chico State and being the home of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. But they also have some intriguing laws: “No person shall produce, test, maintain, or store within the city a nuclear weapon, component of a nuclear weapon, nuclear weapon delivery system, or component of a nuclear weapon delivery system under penalty of Chapter 9.60.030 of the Chico Municipal Code.” You are also prohibited from owning a smelly animal hide or bowling on the sidewalk. Naturally, citizens also need to apply for a permit from the city to throw hay into any local cesspools.

Eureka:

Humboldt County’s principal city is also not immune to some bizarre laws. Visitors are warned that one may not sleep on the road. But, most importantly, the city isn’t friendly to America’s pastime: “It shall be unlawful to throw or hit or knock any baseball with a ball bat or any other instrument or engage in or play the game of baseball in any other manner on any city park or playground without first obtaining written permission to do so from the Director of Public Works.” Luckily, it is the other Eureka in Nevada that apparently prohibits men who wear mustaches from kissing women.

And, if you think these regulations are bizarre, NorCal residents can still feel superior to our SoCal brethren who have far stricter prohibitions. After all, in Los Angeles, it is not only illegal to cry on the witness stand, but, even more critically, you may not hunt moths under a street lamp.

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Know of any bizarre laws we didn't mention? Leave them in the comments!

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