In June, the San Luis Obispo City Council directed Police Chief Deborah Linden to come up with strategies to reduce the number of noise and party-related disturbances. She will report at tonight’s 7 p.m. ‘study session,’ held at the council chamber on Palm Street. Students are encouraged to attend the city council meeting to testify for or against the proposed ordinances.
“In order to reduce noise and party violations and related crime, staff recommends council consider: modifying the existing noise ordinance; enacting new unruly gathering and nighttime curfew ordinances; increasing use of the Safety Enhancement Zone ordinance; and evaluating options related to residential rental property licensing,” Linden writes in her report to the council.
Linden and her staff reviewed the existing noise ordinances within San Luis Obispo and the Safety Enhancement Zone ordinance, researched procedures in other communities, options for licensing residential rental properties and strategies to deter young adults under 18 from attending parties and developed a program to ensure greek houses are obeying their permits.
Linden will present the strategies tonight and consider feedback from the council when generating ordinances or procedural changes. She will return to the council with her recommendations in Jan. 2010.
Mayor Dave Romero expects a full house at tonight’s session, but believes most audience members won’t be college-aged.
“The majority will be residents, people who have been dealing with the problem for a long time,” he said.
The situation is unfortunate, Romero said, because while many activities are fine, some are becoming out-of-control.
“If everyone acted responsibly, we’d all get along well. It’s unfortunate we have to come up with tighter regulations because the ones we have aren’t doing the job,” he said.
The students who are most likely to attend tonight’s session are the responsible ones and the ordinances to be considered aren’t directed at them, Romero said.
Despite the San Luis Obispo Police Department’s efforts to educate students about noise and party laws — presentations at orientations, given to student groups, fraternities and sororities; the establishment of SLO Solutions conflict resolution program; marketing and increased fines — the number of complaints from San Luis Obispo residents has generally increased over the past five years. The number of Disturbance Advisement Cards (DAC) (warnings) and citations issued has also increased since 2004, especially in 2007 and 2008, the report said.
Linden’s staff believes there are multiple contributing factors, including the “Pervasive presence of alcohol and party behavior in the student culture; annual turnover in students; lack of sense of neighborly responsibility by violators; violators plan for noise violations (i .e. ‘pass the hat’ to pay the subsequent fine), ability of violators to receive multiple warnings for noise violations each year and lack of adequate enforcement resources to respond to all complaints in a timely manner.”
Of the noise/party complaints investigated between 2004 and 2008, about 80 percent were not on the police department’s premises list. Linden writes that warnings are effective and necessary given the need for Student Neighborhood Assistant Program (SNAP) employees, who cannot issue citations. However, the current noise ordinance lets a residence receive a DAC every 60 days without being added to the police department’s premises list, meaning violators may receive several noise violations each year without receiving a citation.
Linden recommends that that any residence that receives a DAC be put immediately on the premises list, eliminating the 60-day time period for repeat violations, extending the current six-month term of the premises list to one year, enabling property owners to petition to lift their residence from the premises list after a turnover of residents, allowing responding officers to leave a notice of violation and mail a citation when residents are uncooperative, and monitoring SNAP and officer responses to make sure they’re applying consistent enforcement and using discretion appropriately.
The first violation of the noise ordinance costs $350, the second $700, and subsequent violations $1000 within one year.
Unruly gathering ordinance
Linden also writes about unruly gathering ordinances near other universities like Sonoma State University, University of California, Berkeley and the University of Arizona. Violation of the ordinance could result from a gathering of 10 or more people that, resulting from unlawful conduct, substantially disturbs a significant portion of private or public property in a neighborhood. Indicators that could result in a violation include excessive noise or traffic, obstruction of public streets by crowds or vehicles, public drunkenness, service of alcohol to minors, fights, urinating in public or littering.
The officer is allowed to break up the gathering and issue citations. A notice posted at the residence states that any subsequent unruly gatherings there within a defined period of time (usually a minimum of 60 days) will result in civil citations and fines to the residents, property owners and contributing guests.
The rental property owners are also sent the notice; those who show they’re trying to prevent further violations are not held liable for violations. Monica Guevara, an office administrator at McNamara Real Estate, says that her company passes any fines issued by the San Luis Obispo Police Department to tenants, along with additional fees.
“We already have something in place so if there was a DAC, we do have administrative fees from $300 to $600. Those would be in addition to any fine from the police department,” Guevara said.
Linden’s report says that in Tucson, Arizona, the unruly gathering ordinance is known as the “Red Tag” program. Hosts are initially fined $100 for unruly gatherings and the notice, printed on red paper, is posted. After that, subsequent violations begin at $500 and go up to $1,500. The fines are given to the host, property owners and unruly guests. In addition, the “red tags” remain posted for 180 days and removal, defacement, or concealment of one results in a $100 fine.
Cal Poly journalism junior Owen Beck says the SNAPs have come to his house twice but officers have never been called. However, if the “red tag” program were implemented, he might think twice about throwing a party, he said.
“Even if the SNAPs are called on my house I receive a $300 fine from my real estate agency, but I think the “red tag” would seriously affect my decision to throw a party,” he said.
At the city council session, Linden will also recommend a curfew between 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. (or similar hours) for those under 18. Her staff thinks this will reduce the number of illegal acts juveniles in San Luis Obispo are involved in at night. Her report says that in 2008, “35 juveniles were arrested in San Luis Obispo between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Twenty of these arrests were for alcohol-related crimes; three were drug arrests; and three were related to burglaries. Other charges included felony battery, resisting arrest, trespass, and various offenses.”
Safety Enhancement Zone ordinance
The city council can designate a specific area as a “safety enhancement zone” for a specified time period if it finds that increased penalties would reduce the threat to public health and safety. When this ordinance is in effect, possessing or consuming alcohol in public, hosting a gathering where minors consume alcohol, excessive noise, possessing a dangerous weapon and urinating in public mean fines equal to those of violating the noise ordinance.
When the ordinance was adopted in Dec. 2004, it was effectively provided a clear message to and deterred potential violators when the council designated the entire city as a safety enhancement zone.
The police department says the ordinance could be effective for other events like Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, as well as the first and last weekends of Cal Poly’s academic year, the report says.
Biological science freshman Lindsay Baldwin said that from her experience during the Week of Welcome and last weekend, the San Luis Obispo Police Department isn’t as strict as at other campuses.
“From my friends that go to other colleges I’ve heard it’s worse than here,” she said. “Their main job is to patrol the street at night because it’s so crazy. I think it’s a good thing they’re there.”
All fraternities and sororities that operate a house are required to have an administrative use permit, but the police department has found that not every organization has a permit, some that do aren’t abiding by the conditions, and some permits need to be updated.
The Neighborhood Action Team will review each greek organization’s permit, then staff from the police, fire and community development departments will meet with newly elected officers to review the permit conditions and arrange for annual inspections. The Neighborhood Action Team will review each organization’s compliance every summer.