Loading...
SLOJX First Nine Laws 1 THE FIRST NINE LAWS No, the Ten Commandments haven’t been changed. The first nine laws refer to the earliest recorded Ordinances of the Town of San Luis Obispo. While only the titles of these laws survive, they do present a bit of an insight into the legal issues facing the settlement two years after the first incorporation as a Town. There were laws before these nine as San Luis Obispo was considered a pueblo under Mexican rule. An alcalde – a combination lawmaker and judge – ruled the settlement. For those trained in democracy, it was an unusual role for any one person. A Court of Sessions that guided the County as well as the various settlements’ legal course replaced the alcalde. As the community went through several incorporations, laws matched the issues of the day. Then…and now…as laws attempt to promote a more perfect world, a frustrating realization is that in such a world, laws would not be needed! Unlike much of history, the study of law reveals a good deal about those occupying any particular niche in history…noteworthy and otherwise. Essentially, laws codify the hopes and fears of the people of the times. There have always been laws…even long before Moses received the stone tablets…but not all were written and, certainly, all have been ignored to varying degrees by various individuals throughout all of history. Today, unfortunately, lawbreakers captivate the news. Yet, laws persist and, indeed, multiply. For our Town, it was a sign of civic maturity that the community in 1858 embarked on a series of written laws for the benefit of those here. While only the ordinance titles survive, there is also an air of familiarity as some of these “old” laws reflect contemporary concerns. For San Luis Obispo, there were several distinct “series” of laws from 1858 to incorporation as a City in 1876. Let’s begin with an explanation of the beginning date. The first (and certainly not the last) act to incorporate our Town was passed by the Legislature on February 16, 1856…thus our Sesquicentennial. The following July, County Judge Romualdo Pacheco called for an election of three Town Trustees as required by the Act. There is no indication an election was held. Undaunted by the lack of compliance, Pacheco’s 2 successor, Judge Munoz, ordered another election for Monday, January 25, 1858. The first Ordinances date from a week later - February 1, 1858. It is reasonable to assume this was the date of the first meeting of the newly elected Trustees. Of this initial series of nine laws, the first three required: • “regular” meetings (broadly interpreted over the years) • bonds for officials (“sureties” who paid for the bonds were private individuals; not insurance companies) and • publication of ordinances While the first local newspaper began publication on January 4, 1858, the cash strapped Trustees opted for posting any new Ordinance in three spots in Town. There was no Town Hall as a notification post. Possibly a spot had to be changed as Ordinance 3 and 6 have the same title. Number four was a law regulating behavior…not that of man but of dogs. The guardian of both human and canine behavior was the Marshal. Over the years, there were various Ordinances about dogs: their registration, tags, running loose, and procedures to claim a captured stray from the Pound…two days and then the animal was to be shot! Bookkeeping must have been erratic as the Trustees ordered repeated audits of the Marshal’s records. Another pressing issue – assessing and collecting fines - was ordered in Ordinance number 5. Fines not only benefited the Town treasury but some officers…mainly the Marshal…were paid a percentage of collected fees. An elected Police Judge represented the municipal court system, but the Trustees set any fine (and/or jail time). An important municipal concern was addressed in Ordinance 7 – the cleaning of dirt streets that might have been graveled. A later Ordinance that most likely duplicated this first one required property owners to pile trash in the middle of the street by noon Saturday. The Marshal was responsible for collection. One shutters to consider what “garbage” rested in the middle of the streets of a Town that considered the San Luis Creek a sewer! With the number of firearms, saloons and “dance houses” …let alone “houses of ill-fame”…disorderly conduct was high on the regulatory list as Ordinance 8. Eventually, registers of arrests were required and the number one offense was public drunkenness. The fine was $5 or 5 days in jail. 3 Money was always an issue so it was incumbent upon the Trustees to find resources. If you were a male between the ages of 15 and 60, Ordinance number 9 required you to pay one dollar a year as a poll tax. The male population was subject also to a Road Tax of three dollars. No, it wasn’t for use of the roads. Paying the tax exempted you from “volunteering” to work on the roads yearly for three days. Additionally, the Town fathers expected you to bring your own tools. Any volunteer fireman with five years of service was entitled to an “exemption certificate” from this tax. The last Ordinance was passed on March 30, 1858. Within a month, the Town of San Luis Obispo…as well as its laws…ceased to exist. In late April, the Incorporation Act of 1856 was repealed by the Legislature. Fear not…a new series of laws was about to be born, but space limits further discussion. In the future, we will examine the convoluted course of municipal ordinances until they were first codified in 1878. Joseph A. Carotenuti July 9, 2006 4