As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, some Cal Poly students and community members recall San Luis Obispo’s rocky history with holiday parties. Years of ordinances and double fines have created a climate of distrust between students and San Luis Obispo residents. But this year marks a change as new methods of keeping parties in check work their way through city council.
A collective effort between San Luis Obispo City Council and Cal Poly’s Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) is beginning to change the way city officials deal with parties. The groups are working together to find non-ordinance solutions.
These changes are part of an attempt to move past some of the most memorable party fouls dating back as far as 2004.
On Feb. 21, 2004, the San Luis Obispo Mardi Gras celebrations began just as they had for many years. Students crowded California Boulevard and Foothill Boulevard as law enforcement attempted to keep traffic and crowds moving.
The crowd became unruly and after bottles and rocks were thrown, riot police began using rubber bullets and tear gas.
Mardi Gras festivities have since dwindled, but the damage done to the relationship between students and the community is not yet undone.
St. Fratty’s Day
Flash forward 11 years to March 2015: Students clad in green woke up before sunrise and took to the streets in huge numbers. Thousands of party-goers crowded streets, backyards and even roofs. One particular party on Hathway Avenue continued unhindered until students heard a crash and screaming. One of the roofs party-goers were standing on had collapsed, injuring nine students.
The university launched a formal investigation to determine who was responsible and how to avoid another incident in the future. Students and community members alike pointed fingers at the Interfraternity Council (IFC), but investigations found that no formal group or organization was responsible.
Again, the relationship between students and community members was strained.
These events did more than just damage community relations for students, they also led to new party ordinances and Safety Enhancement Zones.
Safety Enhancement Zones are periods of time when fines for certain offenses are doubled in an effort to minimize party-related activities.
There are currently four Safety Enhancement Zones written into San Luis Obispo’s municipal code:
- From 12:01 a.m. on the Thursday preceding “Fat Tuesday” until 12:01 a.m. on the Wednesday following “Fat Tuesday” (Commonly referred to as Mardi Gras).
• From 12:01 a.m. on March 17 until 7 a.m. on March 18
• From 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 31 until seven a.m. on Nov. 1. If Halloween falls on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, the Safety Enhancement Zone period will be effective at 12:01 a.m. on the Thursday falling on or preceding Oct. 31 until 7 a.m. on the Monday following Oct. 31.
• From 12:01 a.m. on the first day of Cal Poly University’s housing move-in day until 7 a.m. of the Monday following the first weekend of the fall ac
During these times, fines are doubled for the following offenses:
- Possession of open containers or consumption of alcoholic beverages in public places
- Hosting a gathering where underage persons consume alcohol
- Noise control
- Unruly gatherings
- Dangerous and deadly weapons
- Public urination
The Safety Enhancement Zones proved to be effective in curtailing party behavior so far, with a record low number of citations during Week of Welcome this academic year. However, while unsafe behavior has decreased during the Safety Enhancement Zones, the double fines have done little to foster a positive relationship between the community and Cal Poly students.
Mechanical engineering senior Eric Johnson received a ticket for a noise violation during Week of Welcome, a ticket that cost him $700.
“As a college student — especially an out-of-state student — it’s pretty difficult,” Johnson said. “It was like as soon as you get to college you immediately put $700 down, which is pretty pricey.”
ASI President Jana Colombini said the Safety Enhancement Zones can be positive, in moderation.
“It makes sense for a day. I get where they’re coming at for that,” Colombini said. “It’s when they try to make it multiple days, I think that it’s a little over-reaching.”
This year marked a significant change in the attitude toward party ordinances and Cal Poly students in general.
On Jan. 17, San Luis Obispo city council voted four to one to not extend the March Safety Enhancement Zone to encompass the first 17 days of the month. The same day, city council decided to move forward with a pilot party registration program that would allow students and community members to register parties the day before in order to limit citations.
These two decisions mark a change in the city council and community’s attitude towards Cal Poly students. Mayor Heidi Harmon said the issues that are being brought up are issues “you can’t ordinance away.”
“My overall philosophy is building more relationships and less ordinances,” Harmon said.
The shift in attitudes did not occur overnight. This change in the way San Luis Obispo handles parties came after this election year’s increase in student involvement in local politics, according to Colombini.
“We elected those new members of city council and the mayor,” Colombini said. “I think they recognize who put them there and all of them ran on a platform of fixing problems and not creating ordinances.”
ASI emphasizes how important student voices and student votes are in the community with events like the Flex Your Right campaign. The voter registration campaign registered thousands of students to vote in San Luis Obispo, pushing students to be more active in the city’s politics.
The pilot party registration plan was created by both Cal Poly students and community members.
San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) Neighborhood Outreach Manager Christine Wallace and other city officials met with ASI and IFC and provided a workshop on the party registration plan, allowing for student input.
“They just presented what it is to us and then we kinda picked it apart,” Colombini said. “They were able to make it very student-friendly.”
Wallace said the dialogue between the city, community and students is improving and that student engagement is key to a cohesive community.
“It’s always going to be one of the keys,” Wallace said. “We are a very engaged community, we have a very engaged council, we have a very engaged staff and it really depends on that group of students if they really want to get involved or if they don’t.”
Colombini echoed the same sentiment and stressed the importance of student’s making their voice heard.
“You can just email [student government] your issue, what you’re upset about, maybe what you even like,” Colombini said. “Then we are able to act from there if we see more people and more of a consensus behind it.”
As February comes to a close, many Cal Poly students are anticipating St. Fratty’s Day, but this year there is a spotlight on students. The new pilot party registration program is not yet in effect, but students are still working with city officials to ensure the holiday festivities run smoothly.
Though there was no connection between greek life and the roof collapse of 2015, IFC President Danny Halprin is working with SLOPD to make sure this year’s greek events are safe.
“Student tradition has been early mornings, so we’ve been guiding chapters to plan events later in the day,” Halprin said. “It’s the early morning partying that wakes up neighbors. The hope is that it’ll distrupt less of the neighbors and the neighborhood.”