Break the law on three key party holidays in SLO and the fine will double

The San Luis Obispo Police Department can now double fines and charge up to $1,000 for antics such as nudity, public urination and possessing open containers of alcohol in public places on St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween, in addition to Mardi Gras.

The San Luis Obispo City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to add the two celebrations — which law enforcement officials say are becoming burdens on police staff — to the city’s safety enhancement zone ordinance.

The law stipulates that first-offense violations will double to $700 from $350, and second offenses will increase to $1,000 from $700 during those days. A third offense within a year’s period is also a $1,000 fine.

Police Chief Deborah Linden has said that Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day have become notably more troublesome for law enforcement and that a noticeable upsurge in alcohol-related problems has occurred.

It is anticipated that adding those festivities to the ordinance will help deter future problems.

The ordinance was first adopted in 2004 after a Mardi Gras celebration turned into a riot when a crowd of about 5,000 threw rocks and bottles at police. Nearly 200 people were arrested.

Since it was enacted, arrests have dropped to 43 this year from 91 in 2005 during Mardi Gras. Likewise, violations such as open containers, noise and urinating in public have all declined.

Earlier this month, the council approved a new ordinance to curb disturbances related to parties and noise. That law, pertaining to unruly gatherings, allows police officers to fine hosts of parties of 20 or more people deemed to be a substantial disturbance. The law received final approval from the council Tuesday and will go into effect in late May.

Public testimony of the increased enforcement measures encapsulates the city’s ongoing town-gown rift, pitting permanent residents who complain of loud parties against students who say they are being singled out.

The latest addition to the safety enhancement zone is one of five methods the city plans to use to curb disturbances related to parties and noise. The council in September expressed support for getting tougher on partying and the landlords who own homes where noisy parties are held.

In January, the council toughened the city’s noise-restriction ordinance by fining residents up to $1,000 for repeated violations and holding property owners accountable.

Additional efforts to curb excessive partying are still in the pipeline, including a curfew for juveniles and punishing landlords who let their rentals become regular party spots.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.