Johnny Moore, who has sold Christmas trees at the Alameda County Fairgrounds for years, was notified by a city code enforcement staffer on Tuesday that the 25-foot inflatable Frosty balloon could not be used at his new site near McDonald's at the corner of Stanley Boulevard and Bernal/Valley avenues.
He could be assessed an escalating fine if he did not remove it. With the storm hitting Tuesday and Wednesday, he took it down, but reached out to the media getting air time from KPIX, KSFO as well as a story on the SFGate web site.
City Manager Nelson (AKA Mr. Scrooge in this role) Fialho wrote that reaching out to the media was a "brilliant marketing move on Mr. Moore's part."
Moore ran into problems with the city because, when his lot was on the fairgrounds, it was under county jurisdiction. The city ordinance did not apply on county land.
When he moved off the fairgrounds to a city within Pleasanton, the city's ordinances took over. When Moore was given approval for the temporary tree lot, it included specific provisions included a standard prohibition on inflatablesa law that Fialho wrote has been in place for decades.
On the city's letter to Moore granting him the permit to operate, item No. 5 states, "No hot/cold air type balloons or figures shall be utilized on the site."
In the city's view, it is clear. Moore did not take it easily and contacted the media.
"Of course, this has resulted in negative blogging and tweeting, mostly about the City's bah-hum-bug attitude. Makes for great P.R. for Mr. Moore who, candidly, is in the business of selling trees. A brilliant marketing effort on his part," Fialho wrote.
"Regardless, we are simply adhering to our municipal code and his permit to operate the tree farm. We plan to enforce this provision since all other operators are required to adhere to the same standard in Pleasanton (and have so for years), including other tree farms, downtown shops, dealerships, and the mall. Providing an exception, while convenient for everyone, creates a slippery slope for other situations. I would prefer not to put City staff in that position for obvious reasons."
Despite the media attention, Fialho wrote that the city had received fewer than five emails and phone calls on the issue and callers, once given the background, they understood the city's position.
"I like to think Pleasanton residents are smart and savvy about these things. They get equity and fairness and uniform application of the law. Mr. Moore is a brilliant promoter. Free advertising with an anti-government twist? It doesn't get any better," Fialho wrote in conclusion.
In the end, maybe everyone wins. Moore got lots of free publicity and the city enforces its statute while the media gets a seasonal story.