Background:  San Luis Obispo is home to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and Cuesta Community College.  Both are just outside city limits.  19,000 students attend Cal Poly.  6,000 live on campus.  13.000 live off campus, mostly in town.  13,000 students attend Cuesta.  About 3,000 of those are out-of-area students living unsupervised in town.  About 35% of San Luis Obispo’s 45,000 residents are college students.

The students are back, and the beer and booze are flowing.  At least that’s how it seems to many of us in San Luis Obispo.  In the ten days before the start of Cal Poly classes, City and University police arrested at least 64 people for public intoxication or DUI and cited more than 135 for other noise and alcohol violations.  On many nights, crowds of one thousand young people or more roamed the neighborhoods near the university.

San Luis Obispo City Council will be meeting in special session on Tuesday to talk about this issue.  Before us will be several proposals from Police Chief Deborah Linden on ways to step up enforcement efforts throughout the year.  Here’s some of what’s on the table:

1)    Changes to our noise ordinance.  For years, the focus of the City’s noise ordinance has been the issuance of warnings, not citations.  In large part, that’s because there are not enough police officers to police the bars downtown and parties in the neighborhoods.  Most citizens would be surprised at how hard it is to actually receive a noise citation.

Normally, it takes two warnings in a 60-day period before a residence goes on a “premise list,” which then makes the residents eligible for citation on the third offense.  The residence stays on the list for six months.  Host a noisy party every 90 days, and the residence never goes on the list.  Host two noisy parties in 60 days, but “be good” for six months before holding several more.  In either case, “no harm, no foul,” no citation.

Chief Linden is now proposing that a residence be immediately placed on the premise list after one warning.  The residence would then stay on the list for twelve months.  In effect, one warning, that’s it.

2)    Creation of an “unruly gathering” ordinance.  One of the key problems we have in the city is large parties.  This can mean parties of 100 or more with young people spilling out of a house or apartment into the yard or courtyard and out into the street.  Often, people are coming and going and the hosts don’t know half the people there.  Often, binge drinking and underage drinking are taking place and there are problems with vandalism, public urination, and other offenses.

Chief Linden is proposing an ordinance modeled on one being used in Tucson and Rohnert Park.  Host an unruly party of this kind, not only would you be immediately cited, but your residence would be “red tagged.”  That would mean residents would be subject to fines of $1000 or more if there is a future unruly gathering and attendees at that future party could be personally cited as well.  An actual red tag is used on the residence to alert everyone involved.  There’s even a fine for removal, defacement, or concealment of the tag.

3)    Holding landlords responsible.  Chief Linden is also proposing ordinance changes that would begin to hold landlords responsible for the repeated actions of their unruly tenants.  This could include fines as well as revocation of the business license that all landlords are required to hold if they rent property in the city.

I support everything Chief Linden is proposing, but there is still the issue of adequate police resources.  Creation of better ordinance “tools” won’t have a significant impact if there are not enough police officers to use them.  That’s one of the reasons why I’ve long supported a local liquor licensing fee as in Santa Cruz or even a local alcohol tax to pay for additional police officers.  The primary issue police are dealing with at night in San Luis Obispo is alcohol use and abuse.  Isn’t it time that alcohol itself pay for the cost of enforcement?

Andrew Carter is a City Councilman for the city of San Luis Obispo.