11 Of The Oddest Laws in CaliforniaTed Burgess
California often gets a bad rap for having too many regulations. For the most part, though, these laws make life easier and safer for everyone. However, I’ve found that there are laws on the books that are either amazingly specific or things that should be common sense. I wonder why some of these things even became laws in the first place. For example, this first one seems like it should be a no brainer, yet here it is, passed in 2012.
- It is Illegal to have sexual activity with detained persons. Yep, police officers and government employees are not allowed to touch people in incarceration in any sexual way. The full text of the law is very specific and mentions rubbing of breasts, sodomy, and other potential sexual activities.
Not every law is nearly as obvious as the first one. Most of these other laws fall into the category of “really? We needed a law for that?” A little bit of digging gets to the truth. Most silly laws are actually silly interpretations of laws that make sense or are holdovers from a bygone era.
- In Los Angeles County, it is illegal to throw a Frisbee without the permission of a lifeguard. Why? That’s a really good question. The actual law is that if a lifeguard asks you to stop throwing a football, Frisbee, or other beach toy for the safety of other beachgoers, then you can be fined up to $1,000 for failure to comply.
- In Norco, you have to get $100 permit to keep a rhinoceros. This is actually a law that covers all exotic animals. The residents of this area tend to have quit a few exotic pets and on occasion they get out. This necessitated the ordinance. Here is the text of the law:
Section 8.05.020 Permit – Definition
Except as provided in this chapter, no person shall possess, keep, maintain or have in his possession or under his control, within the city, any elephant, bear, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, lion, tiger, leopard, panther, ocelot, lynx, cougar, wolf, alligator, fox, raccoon, coyote, monkey, ape, chimpanzee, birds of prey, poisonous reptile, other dangerous or carnivorous wild animal, other vicious or dangerous domesticated animal or any other animal of wild or vicious propensities, without first applying to and receiving a permit from the city of Norco to do so.
(Ord. 581, Sec. 1 (part), 1988)
- In Los Angeles, it is illegal to wear a zoot suit. This law doesn’t make much sense today, but back in the 1930s and ’40s, good fabric was hard to come by because of the war effort. Zoot suits, because of their excessive fabric, were seen as unpatriotic. These suits were mainly worn by Hispanics in the Los Angeles area and led to several fights between the Hispanics and whites in the area. The law was passed to stop these large-scale altercations.
Some laws, however, just leave me scratching my head. These are laws that seem to exist for no other reason than to make life more complicated than it needs to be or to punish a single individual in a single locality. Let’s start with one from Fresno.
- In Fresno, no one may annoy a lizard in a city park. Of course, the lizard is only part of the law. But did we really need a law to stop harassment of animals in city parks?
Section 8-410. Disturbing animals in parks.
No person shall hunt, pursue, annoy, throw stones or missiles at, or molest or disturb in any way, any animal, bird or reptile within the confines of any park. (Orig. Ord. 1076).
- In the city of Walnut, it is illegal for a man to dress up like a woman unless prior permission has been gained from the sheriff.
17-31 Male dressing as female.
No man or boy shall dress as a girl or woman without a permit from the sheriff, except for the purpose of amusement, show or drama.
(Code 1959, 4237.1)
- Also in Walnut, no child can wear a Halloween mask without permission from the sheriff.
17-32 Mask or disguise-Wearing.
No person shall wear a mask or disguise on a public street without a permit from the sheriff.
(Code 1959, 4237.2)
- In Dana Point, you may not use your own bathroom if the window is open. It would seem that this law was meant to prevent certain smells from leaking out. Still, did we really need a law saying you have to close your windows before going number two?
Those laws make some sense, but there are some that are absolutely ridiculous. Don’t believe it? Check these California laws out.
- In Chico, detonating a nuclear device incurs a $500 fine. Because $500 is going to take care of the damage done by a nuclear weapon, surely.
- No vehicle may exceed 60 mph if there is no driver. This one leaves me scratching my head.
- In San Francisco, it is illegal to store your things in your garage. The housing code makes this explicit and allows fines of up to $500 for improper use of the garage.
Chapter 6 of the San Francisco Housing Code 399-89
(a) No automobile or other motor vehicle shall occupy any portion of an apartment house or hotel except in a garage which meets the requirements of the Building Code and other provisions of the Municipal Code.
(b) Use. Private and public storage garages in apartment houses and hotels shall be used only for storage of automobiles.
(c) Separation. See Section 406.1 of the Building Code. When approved, existing separations in existing buildings may be acceptable.
This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to odd California laws. Almost every community has an ordinance covering something minor that has happened in the distant past. The good news is that most of these laws are not actively enforced, but they are still on the books.
By Ted Burgess