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Commentary :: Poverty & Urban Development

Open Letter to City Council Re: "Loud & Unruly Gatherings" ordinances

"I would like to register my opinion against the proposed change to the ordinance. I think that the change, particularly as proposed, is an incredibly bad idea and typifies the Council's tendency to over-reach whenever attempting to respond to what may be valid concerns in the community with _mano dura_ (heavy handed) legislation."
Mayor Rotkin et alum,

I would like to register my opinion against the proposed change to the ordinance. I think that the change, particularly as proposed, is an incredibly bad idea and typifies the Council's tendency to over-reach whenever attempting to respond to what may be valid concerns in the community with _mano dura_ (heavy handed) legislation.

I would urge you to consider what the actual consequences of such an ordinance will be. I will start with my own circumstance. I live in a house that has a reputation as a "party house", despite the fact that the current residents have not had (or intended to have) any sizable parties in quite some time. Unfortunately, because of a long-standing reputation that is difficult to live down, a gathering that was intended to be a small-ish going-away party for one of our housemates turned into what would probably be most appropriately termed a "rager". Our garden was destroyed, litter was left all around the house and it was just generally a scene of overall mayhem that was difficult, if not impossible, for us to regulate. It left some of our housemates in tears, in fact. So, where we could have used some help from an appropriately considerate group such as San Luis Obispo's "Student Neighborhood Assistance Program" (see www.ci.san-luis-obispo.ca.us/police/programs.asp, at the bottom of the page), were we to be subject to an ordinance as you are considering, we not only would have to deal with all of the chaos of all these people showing up uninvited, but the iron heel of Sections 9.37.010-60. As a result, we would have to pay an enormous fine and risk getting kicked out because of a certified letter sent to our landlord (who is not absentee, by the way), all because of a reputation the current residents had no part in establishing, no effective way to live down (except by the passing of time), and the consequences of which we have no effective way of controlling.

That's one particular case. Now, i would urge you to consider the consequences of this ordinance in a more systemic fashion. Even if this new ordinance is actually effective at quelling large and unruly gatherings, which is questionable in the first place, what do you think will happen? Do you think all of these students and minors in general are going to chill out because of the ordinance? No, the "loud and unruly" youth aren't going to calm down because you've legislated against their concentrated noise and rowdiness; their noise and rowdiness will simply become less confined and more generalized. It's like a water balloon: you can squeeze it and constrict it as much as you want, but it's not just going to go away, and the harder and tighter you squeeze it, the messier the situation is likely to get. Perhaps it has escaped your attention that there are very few under-age venues in Santa Cruz, thanks to previous Councils' attempts to squeeze that balloon, in concert with the litigiousness of many parents. Right now, there are a number of neighbors who are concerned with the inconvenience and stress visited upon them by large, loud and unruly gatherings. How many neighbors, businesses and non-rowdy, generally calm folks do you think are going to be effected by a huge demographic of bored, pissed-off youth with nothing to do but go marauding aimlessly on the streets? No doubt, the Council will be urged to establish a curfew to further squeeze the water balloon. In such an event, you can likely look forward to rioting not unlike that of the early and mid 90's.

The appropriate solution is not to endlessly escalate the situation through more and stiffer legislation. The appropriate solution is to work in good faith with members of the community you consider to be most problematic toward an amicable solution. Introducing heavy-handed legislation immediately upon the temporary departure of many of those people is about the polar opposite of this solution and at the very least demonstrates extremely bad faith. Had there been previous attempts at open dialogue and the consensual building of solutions that had failed, this might be understandable, though still deplorable, ultimately. However, as far as i can tell, there have been no such attempts. In fact, as i understand it, Santa Cruz Neighbors was presented with an opportunity to take the high road of negotiation and compromise. Apparently, they abandoned that path for the one of divisiveness and distrust, and you are following suit. Just once, i would like to see the City Council at least PRETEND to be as progressive as it purports to be come mid-June.

We all know that you can count on the transience, short-sightedness and amnesia of the student body to get yourselves elected, only to abandon your constituency come the summer once your "moment of accountability" has passed. This dynamic itself is unseemly enough, but i would expect you to at least not make it so painfully obvious. I get the impression that entreaties to "do the right thing" will be useless here, but here it goes anyway: Please do the right thing and do not pass the revised "loud and unruly gatherings" ordinances as proposed and please do work in good faith with the students you consider so problematic toward a solution that works for everyone.

Fhar Miess
 
 


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