Just in time to ring in the new school year, the San Luis Obispo City Council unanimously approved two items responding to ongoing noise and unruly behavior complaints in residential areas near Cal Poly.
The two items approved were amendments to the city’s code regarding unruly gatherings — mostly meant to crack down on unregistered musical performances — and an agreement to allow the University Police Department (UPD) to issue municipal code violation citations within a one-mile radius of Cal Poly’s campus.
The City Council introduced the items on July 21, adopted them on Aug. 18 and scheduled them to go into effect 30 days later — the Friday before fall classes begin.
The city’s main goals through implementing these changes are to help police better respond to and contain large, out-of-control gatherings and to hold all individuals — not just event hosts and property owners — responsible for city code violations, Mayor Jan Marx said.
After a garage roof collapse at the March 7 dubbed “St. Fratty’s Day” party, where more than 3,000 students gathered at a house on Hathway Avenue, many questioned the effectiveness of the city’s existing policy on unruly gatherings.
Marx, who called the St. Fratty’s Day incident “a very dramatic wakeup call,” was at the forefront of the charge to implement the code changes.
“There are tremendous safety implications when there are so many people inebriated in the same place,” Marx said. “It was very disturbing to me that the police couldn’t get to people that could have been or were injured because the crowd was so large.”
The agreement to give UPD more authority off campus had been in the works for approximately one year.
Campus police agreement
UPD and the San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) have worked together for many years and have had almost no difference in power when it came to enforcing the law. UPD officers have always had the right to enforce California state statutes, just like SLOPD and any other city police department.
“It’s a common misconception,” UPD Commander Brenda Trobaugh said. “SLOPD and UPD have always worked together in the neighborhoods to keep the community safe. It doesn’t matter who’s on what side of the campus/city line.”
The only previous difference between the two departments is that UPD did not have the authority to enforce city codes off campus.
UPD now has the authority to issue off-campus citations for violations under five sections of the municipal code: possession of open containers in public or public consumption of alcohol; underage persons in possession of alcohol; noise; unruly gatherings; and miscellaneous prohibitions such as public urination and certain vehicle uses on public property.
Citations under these five sections of the code are $350 for the first offense, $700 for the second and $1,000 for each subsequent offense, though exceptions may occur.
Unruly gathering law
SLO City Council also approved amendments to Chapter 9.13 of the municipal code — the unruly gathering law.
Additions to the definition of an “unruly gathering” include unpermitted live bands, amplified music or DJs; being on a roof not designed for occupancy; and throwing bottles or other objects at other people or law enforcement.
Equally notable, party attendees can now be cited for contributing to an unruly gathering, not just party hosts or property owners.
Officers will be citing people who are contributing to unruly gatherings by participating in behavior such as fighting, urinating in public, standing on roofs, throwing objects at officers, etc.
Prior to the changes, hosts of unruly gatherings would be fined $700 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense. Under the updated ordinance, any contributors could receive an initial fine for $350, a second for $700 and each subsequent violation for $1,000.
Christine Wallace, SLOPD’s community outreach manager, explained that the prior language of the ordinance made it challenging for officers to use.
“This version, with the additions, will allow officers to more effectively address social gatherings that have gotten too large for the party host to manage,” she said, “keep(ing) people and property from injury and damage.”
However, some are not so pleased with the amendments to the ordinance.
“These amendments to the ordinance are in no way fair and reasonable,” said Skyler Schilke, vice president of social relations for Tau Kappa Epsilon. “The fine of $350 for the first offense will make students too scared to leave their house or apartment at all on weekends.”
Computer engineering senior Charles Alexander was even more disgruntled. He penned a petition, what has gathered more than 600 signatures, to the city council to revise several clauses of the unruly gathering ordinance.
Alexander argues that the individual punitive acts that constitute contributing to an unruly gathering should be outlined in their own chapters, as other college towns such as Santa Barbara and Boulder, Colorado, have written in their city codes.
He says that Chapter 9.13 lists the punishable offenses, but has no reference to where a definition for a particular offense may be found.
“It (would) make it easier for new students to become aware of what isn’t okay,” Alexander said.
Alexander also said that the “unpermitted live bands” clause of the ordinance makes musicians a target. Though special event permits are available through the city, applications must be submitted 90 days prior to the applicant’s event.
“The municipal code should either include a reasonable (one month or less of processing) legal means of performing music or should not restrict music performance until a suitable explanation or solution has been established,” Alexander said.
Like them or not, the amendments to the ordinance and the campus police agreement will be in effect by the time students return to school.
Ultimately, the city’s actions are aimed at promoting safety and personal responsibility, Marx said.
“With this change, I hope students will decide how they want to relate to their community for the next four to six years and decide whether they want to be a positive force or engage in behavior they know is disruptive and dangerous,” Marx said. “I am hopeful that students, as individuals and as a group, will take more personal responsibility for their actions.”