The City of San Luis Obispo has been a bit quieter than in years past, according to city law enforcement.
This is due to two recent modifications of the city’s noise ordinance, approved two years ago by the San Luis Obispo City Council, which have helped reduce the number of noise complaints around the city, both University Police Department (UPD) and San Luis Obispo Police Department (SLOPD) officials said.
“It appears to have helped,” UPD Commander Lori Hashim said. “Certainly, we have our party calls that we respond to with SLOPD, but not like it has been in the past.”
Spelling out the ordinances
Those changes come after the city council enacted stricter penalties to noise violations in January 2010. The modifications made violators accountable for just one warning, given by a SLOPD officer or Student Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP) employee, in a nine-month span. After the warning, residents are placed on a “No Warning” list and further complaints are grounds for a fine.
Those changes also made residents and property owners liable for citations. Now, both parties are charged a $350 violation for a first offense, $700 second offense and $1,000 for a third offense given in a 12-month span.
City council then passed the “unruly gathering ordinance” in April of that same year, which makes violators liable for a $700 fine, with no prior warning, when a gathering is deemed “unruly.” To fit the description, there must be 20 or more attendees at the gathering, and it must involve unlawful conduct — excessive noise and public drunkenness, among other listed offenses.
Statistically, those changes have helped. SLOPD issued 307 citations in 2008, and after the changes to the noise ordinance were enacted, that number fell to 277 in 2010.
Chris Staley, a captain with SLOPD, said it’s not only decreased the number of citations issued, but it’s reduced the number of calls to police regarding noise.
“It’s made a significant decrease in the number of calls of service we’ve had for noise in the city,” Staley said. “I can tell you it’s helped reduce our complaints for noise by about 23 to 24 percent on average since we enacted it.”
Passing the message on
Law enforcement has created many other measures besides enforcement to try to bring down the number of noise complaints in the city, Staley said. Both police departments have done their share of educating students at both Cal Poly and Cuesta College about the ordinances.
“We passed the ordinance, I was part of the group that went and talked to Student Community Liaison Committee, ASI (Associated Students, Inc.),” Staley said. “We spoke with a number of people both at Cuesta and Cal Poly to try and get the information out there, get input from people, try and make sure everyone understood the reason for it.”
That education, along with the changes in the noise ordinance, is a big reason the complaints are noticeably lower, SLOPD interim neighborhood services manager Christine Wallace said.
“I don’t know that the ordinance is the full catalyst. I think we’ve done a good job of doing a lot of outreach and education,” Wallace said. “We’re using different kind of advertising mediums, Facebook, print media, that kind of thing, to get information out to students so they really know what the deal is.”
All of that is an effort to bridge the gap in communication between students and the permanent residents in the community. And so far, Staley said the ordinances have had a positive effect in that.
“Everyone wants to have a good relationship between both campuses and with the permanent residents here, I think this has been a good step toward it,” Staley said. “Hopefully, it will continue that way.”
‘It’s just kind of screwed up’
Some community members have a different stance on the ordinances, such as San Luis Obispo resident Joe Fernandez.
Fernandez said he thinks the penalties aren’t fair to all residents of the city.
“What happens if you own your own house and you get the noise violation?” Fernandez said. “Do you pay $700 for a noise violation? It makes sense that the landlord should be notified, but most landlords are just going to say, ‘Well you guys have to pay it.’ So you might as well just give us a giant fine.”
That’s essentially what happened to him when he received a noise violation in summer 2010.
Fernandez said he and his roommates were throwing a house warming party with no more than 20 attendees. As friends started leaving toward the end of the night, police arrived at the residence and approached Fernandez.
Fernandez said, at that time, there were no more than 10 to 11 attendees, but police informed Fernandez that the house was on the “No Warning” list from the previous tenants, he said, and since the property had already received a warning — and was not taken off the list by the landlord after the tenants moved out — he was being issued a citation.
Fernandez said he didn’t know of the residence’s placement on the list, nor did he know that he and his landlord were being fined. So Fernandez worked out a deal with his landlord to pay the bill, but a year later received a notice that he owed the city $350.
Turns out only one share of the citation was paid, and the city sent him a notice looking for the other half.
“Every person we talked to told us a different thing,” Fernandez said. “The cops that gave us the ticket on the spot told us one thing; people we called and asked told us one thing; and then the lady I talked to who I paid the bill with said another thing, and then she said, ‘Yeah it’s just kind of screwed up.'”