San Luis Obispo City Council tells police chief to create stricter ordinances for noise and curfews

The San Luis Obispo City Council expressed support for tightening up or creating new ordinances on curfews, loud parties, excessive drinking, unruly gatherings and landlords who let their rentals become regular party spots.

It did not adopt new laws at Tuesday night’s meeting, but it did direct Police Chief Deborah Linden to proceed with toughening city policies on partying.

Linden is expected to return with the various proposals in ordinance form in January, with the more complex ordinance on regulating landlords expected even later in 2010.

Council members discussed their support for strong action after listening to a collection of students decrying how the proposed ordinances were too strict, and from year-round residents who complained about dealing with a new crop of students each fall.

Cal Poly spokesman Chip Visci told the council the university administration has decided that opening activities for the university will not be as long next fall as they were this September. Dorm move-in day was Sept. 12, and classes began Sept. 22.

“Next year, it will be shorter between move-in time and the start of school. It was 10 days this year. That will not happen again,” he said.He expressed the administration’s support for city police plans to toughen enforcement, but he also said that students “contribute in positive ways to making San Luis Obispo one of the best places you could ever live.”

Tuesday night’s study session had been planned for some time, but it took on a renewed urgency with the start of school this fall and reports of excessive drinking, large crowds and more in neighborhoods near campus.

Campus police reported making 42 arrests and writing 43 citations over the 10-day time period, while city police made 30 arrests and wrote 95 citations.

Different community members told different stories, illustrating a perceptual rift between the young and the more established.

Brett Cross, president of Residents for Quality Neighborhoods, spoke of the fatigue factor that has set in for residents who have to deal with the noise problems year after year even if the students themselves change.

Paula Carr got up to describe the fear she felt when a rock was thrown through her window late at night and glass pieces were all over her young daughter, an act she viewed as a threat after she had repeatedly complained about partying in her neighborhood.

She lamented that speakers were asking for more and more warnings.

“Adults monitor their own behavior,” she said. “They do not have to have their neighbors call them to tell them they are being noisy.”

But students or recent graduates spoke as well about a police force that can at times be too punitive.

One young man talked of having disturbance advisory cards on his home as he was trying to start a life as a young professional.

John Macy, a fourth year Cal Poly student, said that he got a great feeling when he came four years ago. But he lamented that students and the Week of Welcome activities were being demonized in recent media accounts.

Another Cal Poly student, Adam Forsythe, said he believed that the noise cards called “disturbance avoidance cards” issued to residents of noisy houses are a good idea. But he wants to see a way for students to work off fines through community service.

There are five basic proposals:

-- Stiffening noise violations so that houses get on the problematic “premises” list after just one call, and allowing officers to send administrative citations to houses where there is a party but the tenants do not answer the door;

-- Establishing 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfews for those 17 and under, curfews that would not apply to college students but to high school students wandering the streets looking for parties. San Luis Obispo is the only city in the county without such an ordinance.

-- Adopting a new ordinance on unruly gatherings, giving police more leeway to shut down gatherings. The council only questioned whether 10 or more people could be called an unruly gathering under some circumstances or whether the number should be higher.

-- Establishing “safety enhancement zones” like what is in effect for the entire city during Mardi Gras, and making them apply to other times of the year like the start of school, Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day.

Such zones could involve doubling fines for things like urinating in public, noise violations, or more.

-- Establishing a firm count of rentals in the city through changing the licensing system for rental properties.

Council members seemed to worry the most about how controlling rental properties might work.

Rental owners are supposed to get “tax certificates” now and pay a fee like other businesses, whether they have 1 or 100 rentals. But the system has not produced an effective inventory, so it is not easy for the city currently to cite the landlord for a problem at his property.

The council asked Linden to come back with two proposals, one that would do an effective inventory and license homes, and one that would require go further and require inspections.

Council members and others who spoke stressed they were not targeting students, even as much of the conversation emphasized students and particularly the start of school.

“It has to be clear to everybody in this city that this has to apply to every resident, not just students,” said Councilman Allen Settle. “This could be a wedding, any party.”