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SLO moves ahead with plan that lets residents register parties, potentially avoid fines

Eight partygoers were treated at local hospitals for injuries sustained when a garage roof collapsed on Hathway Avenue, near the Cal Poly campus, on March 7, 2015. Two people were treated for intoxication.
Eight partygoers were treated at local hospitals for injuries sustained when a garage roof collapsed on Hathway Avenue, near the Cal Poly campus, on March 7, 2015. Two people were treated for intoxication.

A pilot program for voluntarily registering parties in San Luis Obispo is moving forward with City Council support.

The program would allow residents to notify police in advance of a party in order to potentially avoid fines for noise and other violations.

Although the council responded favorably to that proposal at its Tuesday meeting, it rejected a recommendation by police Chief Deanna Cantrell. Cantrell suggested extending the short period when fines are doubled around St. Patrick’s Day for noise and other party-related problems to the first 18 days in March.

Cantrell cited the March 7, 2015, preholiday party on Hathway Avenue — where dozens of partygoers climbed onto a garage roof, causing it to collapse and injure at least eight people — as an example of the need for extending the period when fines are doubled. Thousands of college-aged residents gathered for the 2015 party.

The council voted 4-1 against Cantrell’s proposal to expand the high-fine period, with Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson dissenting. Instead, the council sought an approach that aims to work with the community through public outreach, rather than hike fines as a punitive measure.

“We can’t fine and ordinance out of the challenges we face,” Mayor Heidi Harmon said. “We need to continue to work to make change happen. What can we do to build community here in San Luis Obispo?”

We can’t fine and ordinance out of the challenges we face. We need to continue to work to make change happen. What can we do to build community here in San Luis Obispo?

Heidi Harmon, San Luis Obispo mayor

Police intend to formulate the pilot program that would allow the public to register an event with the Police Department. Those residents would then be eligible to receive a warning call after a noise complaint, giving party hosts a 20-minute window to quiet down.

Then, if police are called again, the party host would risk an official police warning or citation as part of the city’s existing penalty structure for noise. Currently, no 20-minute warning window is in place.

Under existing policy, party hosts first receive a formal noise warning, which remains on the books for nine months. Then, if police are called again to the same site, a $350 fine is assessed, followed by a $700 fine for a second citation and a $1,000 fine for a third and subsequent citations.

The new policy also would provide hosts with information on how to responsibly plan events and avoid potential violations. Police will fine-tune the policy, which the council will consider at a future date.

City Councilman Dan Rivoire said he worried that a voluntary registration program might let violators off the hook too easily with a 20-minute window to quiet down, but he said he had faith in the department to operate the program effectively.

“If we create and tweak and put together the program over a certain number of months and it crashes and burns because it’s too incentivized, then we know it doesn’t work for our community,” said Christine Wallace, the Police Department’s neighborhood outreach manager. “Conversely, if it shows we have better planned events, noise complaints are going down, and we have less issues with quality of life in the neighborhoods, then we’ll be able to measure that success.”

Cantrell, the police chief, said existing policies of doubling fines for party-related issues around Mardis Gras and on March 17 and 18 have helped control noise and unlawful behavior during one of the city’s most prevalent party periods. She proposed extending the doubled fines — most often levied for noise disturbances, illegal possession of alcohol and unruly gatherings — to March 1 through March 18.

The roof collapse of 2015 was during a social probation (implemented by Cal Poly). The overall impact of a lack of social opportunities created an environment where thousands of students had one opportunity for gathering.

Daniel Halprin, Cal Poly Interfraternity Council president

“I’m in favor of increased fines because past behavior is indicative of future behavior,” said Jeff Eidelman, a resident near Hathway Avenue and Kentucky Street, in public comment. “When it’s demonstrated that it will stop, then I’ll be in favor of relaxation.”

Several Cal Poly students, however, said at Tuesday’s meeting that increased fines would only encourage students to congregate in one place.

“It is my firm belief that the new policy would increase the likelihood of an unruly gathering similar to the roof collapse,” said Daniel Halprin, Cal Poly Interfraternity Council president. “The roof collapse of 2015 was during a social probation (implemented by Cal Poly). The overall impact of a lack of social opportunities created an environment where thousands of students had one opportunity for gathering.”

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