Noise violators in San Luis Obispo will face increasing fines

The San Luis Obispo City Council decided unanimously on Tuesday to toughen the city’s noise ordinance, so police officers will be able to write more citations earlier to residents who keep their neighbors up at night.

The vote came after testimony from an audience that encapsulated the city’s ongoing town-gown rift, pitting permanent residents who complained of loud parties against students who said they were being targeted.

Council members adopted a nine-month period for a house to remain on the city’s problematic “premises list” after a single noise violation.

Residents for Quality Neighborhoods and many permanent residents wanted a 12-month list that could lead to more citations for the worst houses.

The police in the past had required that a house receive two noise violations within 60 days before it is placed on a six-month list. Some residents said the older system allowed students to throw loud parties every two months without consequences.

Under the proposal adopted Tuesday, one noise violation will now mean the residence will go on the nine-month list. A second one — even on the same night — can lead to a $350 fine, a third a $700 fine, and all additional citations could mean fines of $1,000 for residents.

The police reported Tuesday there were 2,700 noise calls in 2009, and 137 residences are on the premises list. Chief Deborah Linden said they expect more premises to be on the list with the new rules.

Many permanent residents said toughening the noise rules is a first step, but they wanted the most problematic houses to receive more citations.

“It’s time that the homeowners live in peace and quiet,” said Larry Leal, who lives near Foothill Boulevard.Kelly Griggs, president of the Cal Poly Associated Students Inc., said after the decision that “the nine-month limit pretty clearly targets students for an ordinance that is supposed to be communitywide.”

She worried that the council’s decision and some of the animus expressed by speakers will perpetuate the rift in the community.

Other adjustments made to the ordinance and to city policies included: restarting the nine-month clock for every new noise violation; giving property owners 14 days to address a problem involving their tenants and then possibly fining them for additional noise violations; and allowing first-time offenders to do community service to work off the first $350 fine.

The city is expected within the next five months to revisit the issue of more punishments for parties, when it considers strict rules for “unruly gatherings” that could include citing everyone who attends large out-of-control parties.