Crackdown: Eugene’s ordinance on unruly gatherings gives police a sharper axe
It’s 10 p.m. on a Friday night. You and your roommates made it through the long week and are ready to host a party for your friends to come have some fun. All of the sudden its 12:30 a.m. and your house is a war zone. There’s beer on the floor, a random girl spilling Jager on the purple couch your mom gave you and people shooting each other with your roommate’s blow dart gun. The worst part is you don’t know half of the people raging in your house, and someone clearly didn’t read the sign “do not turn volume past 40 unless you want our neighbors calling the pigs!” As if on cue, the police show up 20 minutes later and warn you that you need to empty your house or face a $375 base fine, police response costs, which average over $800 per call and possible criminal penalties. This is your party life under the new city of Eugene ordinance on unruly gatherings.
The ordinance — commonly know as the Social Host Ordinance — was passed by the eight-member city council and approved by Mayor Kitty Piercy on Jan. 28. According to a city fact sheet, police can cite individuals under the ordinance if there is “alcohol present or consumed and where any two or more of the following behaviors occur on the property where the gathering takes place or on adjacent property: violations that involve laws relating to sale, service, possession or consumption of alcohol; assault, menacing, harassment, intimidation, disorderly conduct, noise disturbance, criminal mischief, public urination or defecation and littering.”@@[email protected]@
The ordinance went into effect March 2, but police will not enforce action until April 1, after a month-long education period.
Student activists, including ASUO and Fraternity and Sorority Life, showed heavy opposition in the early stages, but were unable to prevent the ordinance from being enacted. Now, many are concerned that they will feel the pressure of Eugene Police’s newly established sledgehammer.
Madi McCallum@@[email protected]@ — a junior journalism major whose house has been targeted by the Eugene Police Department before — says that while she understands the need to keep the peace, she feels like the city and EPD are attempting to take the college experience out of a college town.
“Partying is pretty typical in college, and I feel like they’re trying to make it illicit,” McCallum said. “It is their job to protect the community and look out for everyone’s best interest, but they’re going way beyond what they need to do to keep people safe.”
EPD Sergeant David Natt@@[email protected]@ said he understands the student sentiment and wants to be clear that the ordinance will be applied with discretion, case by case. His only advice to students worried about the new ordinance is to know which actions are punishable under the ordinance.
“If someone has fear that they are going to be cited for that ordinance or is concerned about that, take a look at the list of behaviors, understand what they are and don’t allow them to happen at your residence,” Sergeant Natt said. “If we can’t determine two of those actions are happening, we can’t cite the ordinance.”
A key factor to keep in mind is that there are no limitations or guidelines on how many people constitute an unruly gathering. Whether it is four or 400 people, if there are two of the actions on the list happening, you can be cited.
With all the concerns surrounding the application and implications of the new law, many are overlooking some of the more underlying consequences for those tagged by the ordinance.
One provision of the rule allows the police to hold a cited address’s property manager or landlord to be held liable for response costs after the fourth violation at the same address within a 12‐month period, but limited to the civil penalty for recovery of the actual response costs.
Local West University and South Eugene property managers are preparing to educate their tenants on how the ordinance can effect them in the long run. Even if a tenant leaves and a new one moves in, the ordinance is still tagged to that address even if the people who incurred the black mark have moved on.
Jim Straub, owner of Acorn Property Management,@@[email protected]@ said that he won’t bring it to the attention of his tenants until a serious incident occurs to defend his company’s relationship with its renters.
“I don’t anticipate bringing it to the attention of tenants until there is something severe. The consequences are scary, but I don’t think 99 percent of people will run into this,” he said. “The way the ordinance is designed, you get a free warning and tenants are going to know if they are violating it and the police will inform us as well.”
Straub explained that if a tenant is warned by police, they will contact the tenant within the next few days to talk about moving forward in a positive manner to prevent another incident and incurred fees by both parties.
As far as the University of Oregon is concerned, the administration only wants to educate students on their rights and regulations to party in a safe manner.
Jennifer Summers — director of substance abuse prevention in the Dean of Students Office — said that she, along with student groups, is working with EPD and the City of Eugene to make sure they have a comprehensive approach in getting the word out to students to make sure they are well informed of the changes. @@http://uoregon.edu/findpeople/person/Jennifer*[email protected]@
“One of the approaches we are focusing on is not only getting the word out about the ordinance itself, but clarifying some of the specifics on what makes a gathering unruly,” Summers said. “Also, EPD has stressed the affirmative defense, that if you’re trying to call and say your party accidentally got out of control, their biggest concern is trying to increase compliance.”
Summers said that there will be a town hall-style meeting in April for students to come and meet city and police officials to ask questions so they can better understand the regulations and their rights. Summers and her office are still planning the event and plan to announce the details soon.