Ask Me Anything: Fallen citrus, mask-wearing, and graffiti

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A Winters Express op-ed column

Ask Me Anything is a new advice column in which you are invited to, well, Ask Me Anything! You can ask about personal ethical or relationship situations you are struggling with, that thing you’ve always wondered about, or really anything. I’ll do my best to find an answer and most definitely give you my advice or opinion. Thank you for the questions! Ask me anything, and I’ll answer. M.L. Flagel Q: Is it OK to pick up a neighbor’s fallen citrus that is on the sidewalk? This is a great question, especially in Winters where we enjoy such an abundance of naturally-grown produce right in our back (and front) yards. I’ve wondered this myself, so thank you for the nudge into some research. According to California law, the answer is YES, it’s lawful to take fruit that has fallen onto public property (such as a sidewalk). It’s not legal to take fruit off a tree that is on someone else’s property. There are some interesting branches to this question though (pun intended). What about fruit on a neighbor’s tree that hangs into your yard? Also, yes. It seems that if a neighbor’s tree fruit hangs over your property, it’s yours for the picking. It’s not, however, legal to go onto another’s property to pick fruit off of their tree. When in doubt, ask the tree-owner. That would be the courteous and considerate thing to do anyway. In all likelihood, the person will be appreciative of you asking and invite you to help yourself. Q: My child wants to play at the park with other children, yet many adults and children there don’t wear masks. What should I do? Such a timely and complex question, to which there is no simple answer. But, since you asked for my opinion, here it is …. When in public places, there will always be inherent risks that you cannot control. Mask-wearing among adults (and children) is one of those. You can politely (and directly, no beating-around-the-bush) ask the adults if they would be willing to wear masks so that your child can play nearby. If they aren’t — or clearly aren’t receptive to your request — it’s probably best to instead seek out those adults who do wear masks and invite them and their children to meet you at the park. While you don’t want to be the mask police, you also want to be able to take advantage of the park and having your child play outside. Given the current climate and the polarizing attitudes about masks, it may be best to stay away from groups that don’t wear masks and start paying attention to when similarly like-minded, mask-wearing adults are in the park, and go at those times. Q: Who takes care of cleaning the graffiti on the Putah Creek Walk, and if I spray paint a solid color to cover over profanities to “clean it up” am I breaking the law? Another great question, and I learned a few things researching the answer. The easy part is that the City of Winters Public Works Department is responsible for cleaning up graffiti in Winters. “Cleaning up” graffiti is a bit more complicated. It turns out that carrying spray paint in a public facility like a park, playground or recreational area is a misdemeanor (see Cal. Penal Code 594.1(d)-(e)). If you want to minimize your criminal exposure, I suggest you use regular paint. (I could find nothing about the legality of carrying a can of regular paint in a public park.) By the way, it is also apparently illegal to carry spray paint “while on a public highway or street,” which begs the question why the Winters Police don’t just wait outside of Ace to cite people? (joking) More importantly, the answer depends more on the definition of vandalism. Under California Penal Code 594 vandalism is defined as, “maliciously damaging, destroying or defacing another person’s property.” I would argue that a solid defense to vandalism is that you are not destroying or damaging, but rather enhancing and improving another’s property. So, my advice is to go with good intent to improve and enhance, don’t carry spray paint, and try your best not to get caught. I’m sure many other community members would appreciate your efforts.

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