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Snapshot of our times pushes kids to the back

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 13, 2002

A cursory glance at the front page of Wednesday's Pasco Times should have raised eyebrows.

In separate stories we reported on the ongoing battle in which some residents of Forest Lakes want to oust a family with five foster children -- and on a proposal that would allow the number of adult businesses in the county to nearly triple.

Holy skewed priorities, Batman!

That's what we need, fewer situations in which compassionate caring people can care for foster children and an increase from 22 to 58 sexually oriented business sites.

The stories aren't really linked, other than perhaps, sociologically -- maybe children without access to foster care will provide future employees for massage parlors, lingerie modeling shops and strip joints.

But it presents a weird snapshot of where we are and where we are going.

First, I have no quarrel with "adult businesses," and believe that they will thrive or fail as a function of economic Darwinism. If people really don't patronize them, they will go away. At least the proposal would restrict them to certain areas where they are less likely to impinge on the sensibilities of those who would find them repugnant.

At the same time, we deal with the issue of people from the International Brotherhood of Folks With Too Much Time on Their Hands who find it repugnant that someone in their neighborhood will take in children with no place else to go.

The reasons seem to slide around a little. First, the family was allegedly running a business -- and we all know there's big bucks in foster care, right? Then it was a question about changes to the property without civic association approval and then it was over the definition of a family.

You can care for foster children for profit -- if you chain them in a room with a bucket and feed them scraps, but here lately that seems to be more the purview of natural parents and the babysitters they hire.

Defining a family begs for the use of "slippery slope," cliches, and I think the Norman Rockwell version of Mom, Pop, 2.4 children and a golden retriever, has, for better or worse, slipped away from us.

In a world where families consist of siblings and semisiblings from multiple marriages, children being raised by grandparents, gay men and lesbians having and raising children, and other products of social forces that exist whether everyone approves of them or not, civic associations may not be the best final arbiters of definition.

And the changes in the property seem to be, horrors, a swing set and a trampoline in the back yard.

Nobody has come forward to say that the natural and foster children of Steve and Corinna Gourlay are noisy, troublesome, spray paint graffiti on trash bins or whack mailboxes with baseball bats.

But if I had to guess at a key word or phrase in the controversy, it wouldn't be property, or architectural review or business.

It would be "children."

Forest Lake Estates is not an adult community, but apparently some of its residents wish it were. When I had friends living in a similar area in west Pasco I picked up a child's tricycle at a garage sale and would sometimes place it in their front yard when I visited. Twenty minutes later we would peek through the blinds and see how many (usually quite a few) of their neighbors were standing in their front yards, hands on hips, glaring at the offending device.

I'm pretty sure a trampoline and a swing set would have pushed them over the top.

If adults-only is the theme, maybe the County Commission can cut a deal with the adult businesses that want to proliferate and move them into Forest Lake Estates and clarify the issues. The civic association would be sure they were businesses; it wouldn't matter how their clientele was related and, although they might keep the trampoline -- they'd probably move it indoors.

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