Getting drunk in the parking lot before a University of Oregon football game is a longstanding tradition, and as of May 20, people tailgating outside Autzen Stadium will have a couple more hours to do so permanently.
The ordinance was introduced a year ago, extending the tailgating hours from four to six hours before an Autzen event in part to improve the fan experience on game days. However, there were safety concerns from both audience members and councilors due to the possible increase in public drunkenness.
The measure was approved unanimously, but its effect on Eugene remains unclear due to a number of near-simultaneous changes: rideshare apps like Lyft and Uber arrived in Eugene only two months after the tailgating hours were extended; at the same time, Autzen imposed new rules banning re-entry and only allowing clear bags inside the stadium, which makes binge drinking during the game harder; and the Eugene Police Department has also had a staffing crisis for three years that has made DUII patrols difficult to staff.
When the ordinance was introduced in May 2018, city councilor Jennifer Yeh introduced a sunset amendment; the council had to vote to renew it, or the extended hours would have expired July 1, 2019.
But permanently extend it they did. That decision took about three minutes, according to the city council meeting stream. No one testified either in favor of or against the measure, and the councilors didn’t discuss it.
The original ordinance stipulated that before the council would vote on renewing it, UO had to submit traffic and alcohol-related arrest information, a parking plan with the city to facilitate access for emergency vehicles, an Autzen entry and re-entry policy and an underage drinking policy. According to the meeting agenda, Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Duncan emailed the council with answers to each of these questions and requested the permanent extension in March.
“I have not had anyone contact me with negative comments,” Yeh wrote in an email to the Emerald. “What has really made a difference is the new no re-entry policy and I’m very glad the UO is continuing with this policy. If that were to change the City Council would be able to evaluate whether extended tailgating hours was still appropriate.”
Beer and wine is sold inside the stadium, but Autzen’s no re-entry policy means people can’t drink liquor stashed in their cars during half-time.
The University of Oregon Police Department has no record of any DUII arrests on game days in 2018, other than one unrelated to tailgating. DUII stops and arrests by UOPD have decreased overall in the past year because staffing levels were lower and it had less grant money to put toward DUII patrolling, according to UOPD spokesperson Kelly McIver.
DUII arrests made by EPD during football season also decreased by 26 percent between 2017 and 2018, but it’s hard to pinpoint a reason because of its staffing crisis. According to EPD Lt. Doug Mozan, on game days, EPD needed “every available body for those overtime slots in the stadium and around the stadium for traffic enforcement.”
Mozan said the DUII officers on duty are usually busy any day of the week, which makes it hard to tell if DUII arrests are decreasing because fewer people are actually driving drunk.
EPD is in the process of hiring new officers, but because training takes time, this football season won’t see the effect. “In the fall of 2020, look out because we're going to have some extra staff out there and we will absolutely be hard after it,” Mozan said.
Rideshare apps like Lyft and Uber also opened for business in Eugene in September 2018, giving people a new option to get home after a day of drinking.
Lyft spokesperson Nathan Lawless said 70 percent of Oregon Lyft passengers say they’re less likely to drive while inebriated because they know they can use a rideshare app. Some studies have shown a reduction in DUIs when rideshare apps are introduced, but causation is hard to prove, according to the New York Times.
Lyft also sponsors UO Athletics and sometimes offering discount codes at games, a practice Lawless said the company expects to continue.
According to Mozan, it’s hard to say exactly what effect the extended hours are having on Eugene because of the “perfect storm” of concurrent changes. But statistics provided in the city council meeting agenda showed a 35 percent decrease in the number of people being ejected from Autzen, though the number of people ejected during a home game was never more than a fraction of a percent of the people attending even before the new rules were implemented.
It may be awhile before the full effects are clear. “For now I would say, it’s a little too early to tell,” Mozan said.
Gabriel Ornelas contributed reporting to this story.