More than four months after a garage roof collapsed at an early-morning “St. Fratty’s Day” party, San Luis Obispo officials are proposing changes to the city’s rules on unruly gatherings to hold party attendees — not just hosts or property owners — accountable for misconduct.
The San Luis Obispo City Council will consider amendments Tuesday to its unruly gathering ordinance to make it more effective, according to a staff report by Christine Wallace, the city’s neighborhood outreach manager.
The ordinance came under scrutiny after at least eight people were injured when a garage roof collapsed under the weight of more than 50 revelers March 7 in a neighborhood near Cal Poly. The incident gained national attention.
An estimated 3,000 people had gathered along Hathway Avenue to celebrate “St. Fratty’s Day,” an event created six years ago.
San Luis Obispo acting police Chief Chris Staley said Wednesday that an investigation is ongoing to determine who hosted the party.
Soon after the party, some residents implored the city to do more to enforce its laws, including the unruly-gathering rules.
Adopted in 2010, the ordinance penalizes hosts of gatherings of 20 or more people that negatively impact the neighborhood because of public drunkenness, fights, obstruction of public streets, vandalism, littering or serving alcohol to minors.
Twelve unruly gathering citations have been issued in the past five years. Most recently, two were issued May 15 to a location on Casa Street, Wallace said.
There are several reasons for the low number of citations issued, Wallace wrote in the staff report:
• Only party hosts or property owners are responsible for unruly gatherings, and it is often difficult to identify those people, especially when residents refuse to answer the door when authorities arrive.
• The vast majority of parties that police respond to don’t rise to the level of a “substantial disturbance” of a “significant segment of a neighborhood” and are solely warned or cited for noise. In 2014, the city responded to 1,729 noise complaints; 43 percent of those received formal warnings or citations.
• Most noisy partiers disperse or go inside when police cars arrive, and officers rarely see people drinking or urinating in public in association with large parties.
The changes would ensure that party attendees — not just party hosts or property owners — could also receive unruly gathering citations.
The goal is to “ensure personal accountability for individuals who choose to remain at a party that has turned into an unruly gathering and are personally contributing to such a gathering through their adverse behaviors, even if they are not hosts or property owners,” according to the staff report.
An initial violation for partygoers contributing to an unruly gathering would result in a $350 fine, with a second violation costing $700 and each additional violation carrying a $1,000 penalty.
Currently, those responsible for a party receive a $700 fine, increasing to $1,000 for each subsequent violation.
City staff proposes adding several other negative behaviors to the definition of an unruly gathering, all of which could trigger a citation: unpermitted live bands, amplified music or DJs; being on a roof not designed for occupancy; and throwing bottles or other objects or substances at law enforcement or other people.
In addition, an unruly gathering could include a noise disturbance that generates three or more complaints in any four-hour period.
Sandra Rowley of grassroots group Residents for Quality Neighborhoods said some residents are reluctant to call police for fear of retribution.
“I personally know of one neighborhood where other residents will call one individual and have that individual make the call,” she said.
In addition, she suggested the ordinance include better definitions of what it means to cause “a substantial disturbance” in a “significant segment” of a neighborhood.
“Those could mean different things to different people easily,” she said.