More than 130 people attended the San Luis Obispo City Council meeting Tuesday night, where San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deb Linden presented five strategies to deal with the noise and partying in the community. The council directed her to return in January with proposals regarding noise, unruly gatherings, a curfew for those under 18, regulation of property owners’ licenses and a safety enhancement zone ordinance.
While the percentage of complaints to the police department did go down about 3 percent from 2007 to 2008, from 2897 to 2811, generally they have increased over the past five years. The number of Disturbance Advisory Cards (DACs) and citations also spiked from 2007 to 2008, with DACs going from 1286 to 1364 and citations from 213 to 307.
Linden compared current procedures and laws with proposed changes; most of the nearly five-hour meeting focused on holding property owners accountable and implementing the safety enhancement zone ordinance more often. The former could potentially mean stronger regulation of property owners’ licenses and inspection of rental properties; the latter refers to a period of time and a geographic area designated by the council where relating fines are doubled.
Don and Natalie White own two rental homes and half of a condo, all located near Cal Poly. Don recently retired from the university, where he was the chair of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering as well as a professor.
One of the White’s rental homes received its second DAC on Sept. 19; the first one was seven or eight years ago. Don sent the DAC and a letter to his tenants, explaining the terms of their lease and encouraging a sense of responsible, neighborly behavior, something many audience members said students seem to lack.
“In our lease agreement we have conditions regarding noise and being respectful of the neighbors,” he said.
Holding students’ parents accountable for the condition of the home and any fines is important, he said. When a manager isn’t handling the property, he has a parent sign the lease, meaning he or she is responsible for the tenants living in the house.
“I think getting the parents involved as the lease has been very valuable,” he said.
Linden also spoke about the safety enhancement zone ordinance, which was effective in controlling the revelry during Mardi Gras weekend in 2004. She proposed doubling the fines during a period when it’s in effect, which could be for holidays like Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day and for the time between the weekend before the Week of Welcome (WOW) and the beginning of classes.
Many audience members laughed when Councilwoman Jan Marx said, “So we could just make it permanent for the north side of the city, theoretically speaking.”
The entire city could be designated as a safety enhancement zone, since not only do students live all over San Luis Obispo, but as Vice Mayor Allen Settle repeatedly pointed out, the laws will not only affect students, but all members of the community, whether the officers arrive at a wedding reception or massive party.
In addition, there was fairly strong consensus among the council for a one-warning system regarding the noise ordinance, where after one DAC, a residence is placed on the police department’s premises list for one year, Linden said.
As of Sept. 28, 128 locations were on the premises list, but there might have been many, many more if police could get residents to open the door when they arrive.
The fact that the police cannot legally enter a residence without permission – unless they have information that someone is suffering an imminent risk – was of serious concern to the council. There have increasingly been instances where residents refuse to open the door and the SNAP or officer cannot issue a DAC or citation.
“Legally our hands are tied,” Linden said.
After Linden concluded with her report, Chip Visci, Cal Poly associate vice president for strategic communications, represented Cal Poly President Baker, who, to the dismay and frustration of many audience members, had other plans.
“Cal Poly completely understands the city’s frustrations over unruly behavior and misconduct by college-age young people, particularly in the neighborhoods adjacent to our campus,” he said.”Such behavior is unacceptable, and neighbors have every right to expect and insist upon responsible, considerate conduct.”
Cal Poly believes that there must be clear consequences for unlawful conduct on and off campus, he said. The university is reviewing the orientation programs and rearranging next year’s schedule so there is less time between move-in weekend and classes.
Baker asked him to emphasize three points at the meeting: “Cal Poly supports aggressive enforcement and stiffer penalties; in particular we support the idea of strengthening ordinances that would encourage landlords to be more involved in overseeing their tenants’ behavior. Enforcement plus educational efforts will be more effective than one or the other on its own. Cal Poly and the city are mutually interdependent. We are ever appreciative of what the city of San Luis Obispo means to Cal Poly. The city’s charms – its cleanliness, its safety, its welcoming hospitality – are a vital part of our ability to attract terrifically talented students, the smart, capable students who – the vast majority of the time – contribute much to what is good about San Luis Obispo.”
After the presentations were finished, full- and part-time residents in the audience testified before the council. Residents compared San Luis Obispo to Lord of the Flies and their neighbors’ backyard to Coney Island. Some wore stickers with “noise” crossed out like a cigarette in a ‘no smoking’ sign.
Naoma Wright said that students’ return to the community after summer break was disruptive.
“We had a lovely summer and then bam! Week of Welcome happened and all ‘h’ broke loose. It is my opinion that WOW is just an excuse to party-hardy” and sets a bad example for the rest of the year, she said.
Many community members sympathized, nodding their heads when Week of Welcome was negatively associated with the unruly partying and noise.
Councilman John Ashbaugh said that the increase in the number of on-campus residents has relieved the situation, but computer engineering junior Scott Tucker disagreed.
“I think the biggest issue they’re looking at is that there are 6,500 students on campus. And since they can’t drink there, they’re the unruly crowds,” he said.
His solution would be for zones around San Luis Obispo, designated as student living areas and those for residents.
“I understand people’s noise issues but there should be zones. Areas off Madonna are different than those closer to campus,” he said.
Computer science fifth year Henry Phan agreed with Tucker about having different zones, and added that the implementation of new ordinances and harsher penalties won’t help the situation.
“They’re trying to legislate their way out of a problem, but it’s not going to stop it,” he said. “They’re attacking the symptoms but not the problem itself.”
Eager to defend the program, WOW leaders in the chamber who testified said their experience as freshmen and as leaders was positive and they believe it to be a vital part of the Cal Poly experience.
Horticulture senior John Macy, a 2007 WOW leader, said that when he came to Cal Poly the community was very welcoming, but that now the atmosphere is different. The students’ relationship with the community has changed.
“Going through the businesses downtown on SLO Bound was awesome then, but now it’s really frustrating because the students are feeling burdened and excluded,” he said.
The WOW program is not at fault for the students’ rowdiness, he said; but the program starting on a Tuesday this year didn’t help the situation.
“It was awful because it just gave students another night to party.”
A program where students meet their neighbors would help alleviate the problems, he said.
Getting to the larger issue, Cal Poly graduate Ted Vergis was one of many who spoke about the city’s poor student-community relationship.
“I’m a little disheartened at the lengths the community has gone to create a fissure between the students and the community,” he said.
Landscape architecture sophomore Andy Nowak echoed that sentiment, reminding listeners that “this is a college town. Half the residents here are college students. The problem here tonight is the clash between students and residences.”
While she said ASI didn’t have a stance on the issue, Kelly Griggs represented Cal Poly’s student body as both ASI president and the chair of the Student Community Liaison Committee, which will meet next week to discuss improving the relationship between Cal Poly and Questa students and the community.
“It’s clear that there’s a problem, not necessarily with the students or community members, but with the situation,” she said. “We know it’s something to look into.”
Mutual understanding and respect between the community and students is crucial, she said.
She asked the council and Linden to not rush the changes, saying that because students are only here for a few years, they don”t see the changes that permanent residents do. Funding a long-lasting solution will take a lot of trial and error, she said.
It’s hard because students don’t have anything to compare it to; they don’t see anything wrong with it. Whereas community members have been here for a long time and do, she said.
“The San Luis Obispo community isn’t going anywhere and Cal Poly isn’t going anywhere.”