Crowd calls on SLO City Council to respond to 'St. Fratty's Day' party

These photos show the scene before and after a roof collapsed Saturday, March 7, on Hathway Street near Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.
These photos show the scene before and after a roof collapsed Saturday, March 7, on Hathway Street near Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Courtesy of SLO Police Department

Some San Luis Obispo residents implored the city Tuesday to do more to enforce its laws, open a police substation near Cal Poly and “play hardball” by cracking down on student parties in areas around the university.

More than 75 people — residents, students, property owners and Cal Poly’s president — attended a San Luis Obispo City Council meeting to discuss a March 7 “St. Fratty’s Day” party that drew about 3,000 students to a neighborhood near campus.

While parties are not unusual in their neighborhoods, some residents said, the situation reached a boiling point when a garage rooftop holding about 50 students collapsed during the huge early-morning party on Hathway Avenue. At least eight people were injured.

Cal Poly’s president, its vice president for student affairs and some students attended to apologize, and they pledged to solve the ongoing problems.

The council asked staff to return May 19 with an evaluation of the city’s “party control” ordinances, such as its unruly-gathering rules, and suggestions for any new regulations. 

Topics could include Mayor Jan Marx’s suggestion to ban people from congregating on rooftops, although other council members didn’t comment on her idea.

The update will be combined with a report on the progress of a neighborhood civility group — a collaboration between Cal Poly, Cuesta College and San Luis Obispo to build positive relations between residents and students.

“Specifically, we can’t have gatherings of 2,000 or 3,000 people,” Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson said. “No matter how much kids need to party, there’s a difference between doing stupid things and doing stupid things that are truly dangerous. And this is one of them.”

Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong apologized on behalf of the university.

“We are investigating and will hold students responsible for illegal activities,” he said. “We’ve been holding discussions with our students, and I believe they are going to rise to the occasion. Cal Poly plans to be a leading university in how we respond to these issues.”

Some residents called on the city to double and triple fines after midnight, boost police presence and ratchet up enforcement. Property owner Steve Barasch suggested opening a police substation near Cal Poly and said he has properties he would consider offering for that purpose.

Resident Jeff Eidelman said, “We must control behaviors that are unacceptable with laws and ordinances that have teeth. Don’t turn Alta Vista into Isla Vista.”

San Luis Obispo police Chief Steve Gesell said he is working on an agreement with the University Police Department to expand its patrol focus beyond the perimeters of the university.

Resident Carolyn Smith, secretary of Residents for Quality Neighborhoods, said calls to police for noise complaints jumped to 1,847 in 2014 after falling to 1,644 calls in 2012. 

In the past 14 months, she said, there have been 35 parties of 100 to 200 people; 11 parties of 250 to 300 people; two parties of 500 people; and one party of 1,000 people — last year’s St. Fratty’s Day event. 

“I think we haven’t sent a strong enough message to students that partying in neighborhoods is not to be tolerated,” she said.

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