Editorial: Noisy parties are out of control in San Luis Obispo

Let’s start with a multiple-choice question.

Would you rather live next to:

a) A feed lot?

b) An airport?

c) A garbage dump?

d) A houseful of college students?

The answer should be a no-brainer, yet we suspect that a fair number of San Luis Obispo residents would truly rather live next to a smelly garbage dump or a noisy airport than a houseful of rowdy students.

And can you blame them?

For years, we’ve been hearing dreadful accounts of noisy, out-of-control parties, complete with obnoxious “guests” who trample neighboring gardens, vomit and urinate on neighbors’ lawns, knock over trash cans and leave behind a trail of beer cans and plastic cups to be picked up in the morning.

No, Cal Poly students aren’t the only ones engaging in this egregious behavior. Some are Cuesta students, others are high-schoolers and still others aren’t local students at all.

But Cal Poly is by far the largest college in our midst, and like it or not, many residents are going to point the finger at the university when drunken gatherings by college-age brawlers ruin the peace and tranquility of their neighborhoods.

This isn’t NIMBYism. This is righteous anger over a situation that must be corrected.

That said, we recognize that there is a limit to how much university officials can do to control the behavior of students when they’re off campus.

Legally, the university cannot expel students for repeatedly violating the city’s noise ordinance. It can’t even knock a half-dozen points off their GPAs.

That’s as it should be. These are adults who should be responsible for their own behavior.

And to give credit where it’s due, these students have, for the most part, already shown themselves to be responsible or they never would have been accepted to Cal Poly in the first place.

Consider: The average grade point average for an incoming freshman in fall of 2009 was a 3.8. You don’t get there by slacking off during your high school years.

But then you go away to college, and that sense of responsibility — along with an innate understanding of why it’s not OK to urinate on a stranger’s lawn at 3 a.m. — can disappear in the amount of time it takes to down a six-pack.

That’s when the city steps in — as it should.

The city already has several measures in place to discourage out-of-control partying, including a recently approved social host ordinance that imposes fines on hosts when underage drinking occurs.

Now, the San Luis Obispo City Council is looking at still more ways to reduce excessive noise and partying.

In his Viewpoint on today’s Voices page, City Councilman Andrew Carter outlines some of those proposals, which include more stringent enforcement of the existing noise ordinance; passage of a new “unruly gathering ordinance”; and holding landlords more responsible for the behavior of their tenants by levying fines for repeated noise and party violations.

The council also will consider imposing a curfew on minors under 18, though that would have little effect on Cal Poly students.

We wish such measures weren’t necessary, but it’s clear that the current course of action — which has relied more on warnings than punishment, at least initially — hasn’t succeeded in reducing the number of noise/party complaints. Those have been holding steady at just under 3,000 per year.

We agree that it’s time to take more assertive action.

At the very least, the city should move forward with a more stringent noise ordinance as soon as possible, while it continues to explore other, more far-reaching changes as well.

Education and outreach efforts are commendable and should continue. But when it’s 3 a.m. and the party music is blaring, the time for schooling is over. The time for consequences has arrived.