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The following article was posted on May 22nd, 2013, in the New Times - Volume 27, Issue 43 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [newtimesslo.com] - Volume 27, Issue 43

SLO City to students: Be 'civil' or pay big

BY MATT FOUNTAIN

They call it “community civility,” and it’s part of the city’s Neighborhood Wellness efforts, but the latest decision by the San Luis Obispo City Council to work more closely with local colleges to rein in rowdy behavior now also includes ever-growing double fines during the first weeks of school.

On May 21, the SLO City Council unanimously approved expanding its “safety enhancement zones”—time frames when fines for certain low-level alcohol and noise-related citations double—to now include the weeks that coincide with student move-in as well as Cal Poly’s orientation week, or the “Week of Welcome.”

SLOPD Cpt. Chris Staley, briefing the council on the new effort, said alcohol-related criminal incidents occurring citywide from mid- to late-September since 2009 have given the department “great concern.”

Stats rolled out by the city show the number of citations for offenses such as drunk in public, minors in possession, open container, urinating in public, and noise violations have been consistently high during that time frame since 2009. According to statistics presented to the council, from Sept. 13 to 23 of 2012, 67 people were cited for possession of alcohol, 30 for drunk in public, and 27 for urinating in public.

Staley compared those figures to the first week of November—what the department considers an average weekend—when only three were cited for possession of alcohol, 10 for drunk in public, and four for urinating in public.

Currently, the city employs safety enhancement zones on Mardi Gras weekend, Halloween, and St. Patrick’s Day, and the police department says the fines have drastically reduced calls for service during those periods.

But the expansion of the safety enhancement zones to now include the start of the school year isn’t the only component of the city’s civility effort.

The city’s working with Cal Poly and Cuesta College administrators and student liaisons to form a “Working Group” that will “research, identify, and implement” strategies to build positive relationships between students and their neighbors. Another group, a “Neighborhood Services Team,” which will include students, residents, and city staffers, will be the feet on the ground, so to speak, and essentially keep the lines of communication open between the groups.

In a letter to the council, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong also said the university is hiring an off-campus student life coordinator to help out, and the University Police will also assist the city cops for possible health and safety violations off-campus.

Most in attendance at the council meeting—which included only a few Cuesta and Cal Poly students—supported both the increased enforcement and the proactive measures.

However, former Cal Poly Associated Students, Inc. President Katie Morrow urged the council to create an evaluation plan to ensure the penalties are needed in the long term, and student resident Stephanie Medina called on the council to focus on education, not just enforcement.

“It’s a two-way street,” Medina said. “It’s very important not just to stop bad behavior, but to promote a change in culture.”

City Manager Katie Lichtig told the council that city staff could get an amendment to the municipal code on an agenda before the council for final approval before students begin moving in this year.