Party down

Council moves to crack down on out-of-control student revelry

HALT POLICEIf the cops have to come out to your party twice within a 72-hour period to quiet things down, you may not get arrested like this guy, but you may get slapped with a hefty fine.

HALT POLICEIf the cops have to come out to your party twice within a 72-hour period to quiet things down, you may not get arrested like this guy, but you may get slapped with a hefty fine.

Photo By Tom Angel

Keep it down: The City Municipal Code for noise violations says, “No person shall produce, suffer or allow to be produced by human voice, machine, animal, or device, or any combination of same, on residential property, a noise level at any point outside the property [line] that exceeds… seventy [decibels] between the hours of seven a.m. and nine p.m. or sixty [decibels] between the hours of nine p.m. and seven a.m.” According to the League for the Hard of Hearing, 70 decibels is created by coffee grinders, garbage disposals and freeway traffic. Sixty decibels is produced by hair dryers, lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners.

Though the details still need to be worked out, the Chico City Council this week passed a law that allows police to issue a ticket to the host of a party or the landlord where a noisy party is held.

Actually, the council simply dusted off an existing ordinance that says cops can issue a ticket if they are called a second time to respond to a loud get-together. The council’s Internal Affairs Committee will also develop an ordinance that would force those planning a party of more than 50 attendees to file a “safety plan” with the Police Department listing the details of their scheduled affair. Failure to do so would violate the city’s Municipal Code and give the cops the right to disperse the party.

Upon a second response at the same location within 72 hours, the city would charge the responsible parties for the time of each police officer who responds at a rate of $35 per officer for the first half-hour and $1.20 per minute after that.

The law was passed a few years ago by a former City Council but shelved after the council couldn’t agree how best to implement it. But with a rash of student-related incidents that has brought national attention this year, including the hazing death in the basement of one fraternity house and the production of a porn film in another, a crack-down on rowdy student behavior was inevitable.

City Manager Tom Lando stressed at this week’s meeting that the idea is to prevent out-of-control parties, not create a revenue source for the city. The city, he said, does not have the resources to provide repeated police response to parties and still serve the rest of the community.

“Our desire is to prevent rather than fine,” he said.

Police Chief Bruce Hagerty told the council that student leaders had indicated they wanted to be part of the solution to the problem of raucous parties that often erupt in the campus neighborhoods.

A number of people in the audience addressed the council, including property owners, students and non-students who live in student-dominated neighborhoods where the parties tend to occur.

Landlord Erick Twist called for greater communication between police and property owners and said with proper notice and lack of response the property owner should be held liable for what goes on in his or her rental.

Tahj Gomes, a neighbor, angrily asked the council why the second-response law was not being enforced.

“It is way past time for tenants and landlords to bear the price” of tying up police time and inflicting obnoxious behavior on hapless neighbors, he said.

Barbara Reed, another non-student living in a student neighborhood, called for a first-response law and said instead of a 72-hour limit, a second response within a year should result in a fine. She said she at times feels like a prisoner in her own house.

Former fraternity member and current health club owner Scott Schofield said it was an unfortunate waste of time and money to have to repeatedly respond to loud parties.

“This community has weathered the party atmosphere for far too long,” he said.

Property manager William Sheridan argued that the ordinance as currently written was flawed in that landlords are not held responsible.

Not everyone supported the ordinance. Charlie Preusser, a longtime advocate for local fraternities, argued that issuing a ticket at the time of the complaint circumvents the legal system.

“I’ve argued against this thing for 20 years,” he said. “There is no court hearing. You get fined without going through the court system.”

He said complaints could come from neighbors who simply don’t like the people holding the parties.

Former student Greg Bard said the answer was education and that the ordinance simply makes criminals out of students who like to party.

But in the end, during this season of bad behavior at Chico State, the council voted unanimously to enact the second-response law just as soon as the city can notify the community through display in the local newspapers warning potential party hosts as well as the landlords who rent to them.

Vice Mayor Maureen Kirk suggested adding a habitual-offender clause, noting that “most students here can party responsibly.”

And Councilwoman Ann Schwab reminded the council that the ordinance applies to the entire community, not just students.

“It’s a noise ordinance,” she said. “It is not necessarily an anti-party ordinance. We want people to have a good time.”

Mayor Scott Gruendl said though he is “opposed to imposing negative behavior modification on our young people,” he wanted to assist Chico State President Paul Zingg and the university “in these troubled times.”

The final details of the ordinance and the safety plan should be in place for council consideration by next January, Lando said. But until then the second-response law will be in effect.