Relations between students and full-time residents have grown increasingly icy in recent years. The tensions, many of which were voiced in a public forum, have peaked in part as a response to the “St. Fratty’s Day” party that caused national headlines after a roof fell in at an early morning party near Cal Poly last year.
The public forum was one of the first major public events in which students and other members of the community could gather and share their opinions with each other. Jessica Lorance, a San Luis Obispo County employee who previously lived next to students, said that she thinks a lack of communication between students and the surrounding community is “a major source of the recent tension.”
The divide between students and full-time residents has long been an issue for the San Luis Obispo City Council, including city council member and former Vice Mayor John Ashbaugh. Ashbaugh sat down for an interview with Mustang News to discuss the root of recent community problems and possible solutions to them.
MUSTANG NEWS: What do you think is the root cause of recent tensions in the community?
Ashbaugh: When it comes down to it, one of the main ones is a biological difference. College-aged young people, in general, like to stay up later, while a majority of homeowners and other community members do not.
The needs of the two groups are fundamentally different, especially when it comes to socializing. Noise, traffic and partying may not seem like that big of a deal to someone in college, but older community members generally notice it more. But I think a lot of people don’t remember what life was like when they were 19, and that many of them were in the same position as the students once.
MN: Are there any public solutions that you feel could help ease the situation?
Ashbaugh: There is a major lack of representation of student interests in the government here. The more students register to vote and get active in the community, the more at home they will feel I think.
A solution I see would be the annexation of the university itself. That would mean that students living on campus would be able to vote and considered part of the community. The city would then also be able to benefit by collecting small amounts of sales tax on campus. It would definitely require a study to accomplish, but I think it would be a great addition and extension to the 28 different partnerships that the city already has with the university.
Ashbaugh shared that the ratio of permanent residents to students (Cal Poly and Cuesta College combined) is around 1.6 to 1. Despite the high numbers of students in that ratio, there is no active representation of the student demographic on the San Luis Obispo City Council.
“As a community member I would love to see, from the city’s side, a good representation of the student population put into place,” Lorance said. “I think making students part of the decision-making process would really help create a meaningful partnership and relationship between the students, the city and older community members.”
Over the summer, the city council approved a new set of ordinances addressed mainly toward student gatherings. At the time, council member Dan Rivoire said, “We may be taking steps backwards to build mutual respect in the community.”
Rivoire’s thoughts on the ordinances were similar to the opinions of some students who felt that the ordinances were unfairly created without the input of everyone they would affect.
Many residents, including Lorance, do not think the issue is one-sided. Lorance also said students need to be more active in the community.
“To get their faces out there more would be good. Extra volunteering would be so nice,” Lorance, a program coordinator in the county’s Department of Homeless Services, said. “It is really important for students to be more visual in the community. Folks out there would be a lot more receptive to student input if they saw students actively taking steps to play a bigger positive role in the community that they live in.”
Cal Poly administrators and Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) leaders, along with a variety of city employees, full-time residents and Cuesta College representatives, make up the Neighborhood Wellness/Community Civility Group. The group released a report at the beginning of the year with a number of loose plans to improve relationships, including ASI-funded gift baskets to be given to older neighbors and block parties.
Ashbaugh’s idea of annexing Cal Poly sat well with Lorance.
“I think annexation is a great idea. A lot of people forget that students call this place home too and I feel like they should be able to vote even if they live on campus,” Lorance said.
One issue that Ashbaugh and Lorance both touched on was partying. Ashbaugh gave his thoughts on a possible citywide party registration system that would allow people to register parties in exchange for having some details of the city’s ordinances eased.
MN: What do you think the currently discussed party registration plan could do for the city and community?
Ashbaugh: A party registration program would require that students, as well as everybody else, show the city that they have no opposition from their neighbors when having an event. I feel like this is a really important conversation to have happen on-and off-campus since people will have parties no matter what. The greek community already has to register their parties, so it would be easy to get that information from the school.
We would definitely have to look at the incentives and the negatives of the program, but overall it might allow the city to use less emergency services, such as police, for noise calls, and it would create a better relationship between the students and the city. The new police chief (Deanna Cantrell) is out there meeting members of the community and I think that will help with conversations like these as well.
Mechanical engineering junior Eric Johnson said the communication and possible party registration process that Ashbaugh spoke about could be beneficial to students like him.
“I have gotten the police called on my house a few times,” he said. “But it’s a pretty weird situation in my neighborhood. Half the people who live there have lived there for 3o years, and the other half are students who like to party sometimes. It really isn’t a good combination.”
Lorance said she viewed communication as a key factor in easing the tension between students and more permanent neighbors.
“We’ve had some amazing student neighbors and some bad student neighbors,” she said. “When a group comes up to our house and asks to exchange phone numbers, it means a lot and will definitely get you major points with any families that might live near or around you.”
Ultimately, Ashbaugh stressed that a collaborative effort, among other things, is necessary in order to move forward.
“The university and the students are some of the biggest economic impacters that this county has, so we should work more with the students if they play such an important role,” he said. “We need to be together if we want to accomplish anything. So by working together, we can make major progress in the future that benefits all groups that reside in San Luis Obispo.”
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Jessica Lorance as Jennifer Lorance.