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Nuisance on the block: SLO's long-term residents and students struggle to see eye-to-eye 

Longtime San Luis Obispo resident Kye Martin's kids have a few more years before they graduate high school, but their dad is already counting down the days.

"The last three years have been awful. I look at real estate all the time. I have three more years so that our kids can get out of high school, and I'm done. I'm really done. I feel like there are never really any consequences for [college students'] behavior. When you live next door to these [college] kids, with their techno music and beer pong games going, and every other word out of their mouth they're screaming at the top of their lungs is the F-word," he said.

The Martins live on Hope Street right next to a rental home full of Cal Poly students with a penchant for partying. Martin said noise issues occasionally plagued them over the past five years, but they boomed louder and more frequently once the pandemic hit and residents were confined indoors.

Now, the 52-year-old contends with beer cans strewn in his yard, techno music reverberating through his walls, expletive-laced banter floating around him, and his teenagers asking him to get the neighbors to "shut up." Recently, some of the students also allegedly streaked down the nearby bridge in broad daylight.

Martin's wife grew up on Hope Street and lived an "idyllic childhood." But as SLO attracted more investors and Cal Poly's enrollment rate ballooned, the city's neighborhoods underwent a makeover many weren't pleased about.

"In the last five years, we've watched the neighborhood go from owner-occupied to rental. Then, in the last four years, we've seen the homes be bought by either parents of Cal Poly students or these developers taking these three-bedroom, one-bath houses and blowing them up to five-bedroom, five-bath houses," Martin said. "Originally, you could only have three unrelated people live in a home. That's gone out of the window because of the housing crisis."

What can the average annoyed resident do to fix these noise issues? Not much, according to Martin. After calling the SLO Police Department for the fifth time in four days on May 24, he told New Times that the strongest punishment for continued noise violations is a series of citations that officers issue at their discretion. SLOPD slapped the first notice of violation on the students next door after Martin's last call, and he claimed one of the boys swore at him the next morning when they bumped into each other.

"Sometimes, PD will come out and they don't necessarily hear the volume of the noise from the street because all the backyards are back to each other. So they get talked to, but they don't get cited. It has gotten increasingly worse. The complete lack of respect from young people today, ... they've never been this bad," he said.

Christine Wallace, SLOPD's neighborhood outreach manager, told New Times that "noise party complaints" (NSPY)—which do not include "other noise calls related to barking dogs, leaf blowers, construction noise, etc. NSPY includes calls for loud TVs, voices, music, and parties"—have a three-tiered fine structure. A first violation is $350; a second, $700; and $1,000 for the third.

In 2020, SLOPD received 1,518 noise complaints and issued 337 citations. In 2021, it collected 1,417 complaints and doled out 143 citations. According to its latest data from this January to April, the police department got 475 NSPYs and wrote 57 citations.

"I do encourage residents to communicate directly with each other, but when respectful discussion ceases, I ask residents to call our non-emergency dispatch line for assistance. I also encourage residents to use the free conflict resolution program, SLO Solutions, to help manage civil conflicts in the community," Wallace said.

Martin isn't alone in his frustration. Former SLO Mayor and current City Councilmember Jan Marx is familiar with neighborhood upheaval. Continued disturbance from student neighbors prompted Marx to relocate to a more "family-friendly" area earlier this year.

click to enlarge BRACE FOR BASS SLO's former Mayor and current City Councilmember Jan Marx is trying to update the noise ordinance to include guidelines for "visceral" bass reverberations that disturb neighbors when college students party to techno music. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • BRACE FOR BASS SLO's former Mayor and current City Councilmember Jan Marx is trying to update the noise ordinance to include guidelines for "visceral" bass reverberations that disturb neighbors when college students party to techno music.

"The moment that a student moves into a neighborhood, there's a whole different set of expectations and responsibilities to your neighbors that would not have been there in the dorms," she said. "By the time they move out, they're pretty well socialized and have good relations with their neighbors. Of course, by that time they're 21 or 22, and they graduate and leave. There's a continual changeover of your neighbors."

While Martin thinks Cal Poly and SLO shirk their duties by putting "money first" in terms of the revenue that students bring in every year, Marx has been fighting for an amendment to the noise guidelines. But her fellow council members haven't agreed yet, she said.

"A lot of it has to do with the taste in music. During COVID, my husband and I were both working from home ... and if they are playing music with a strong bass component, you can't shut that out. It's visceral," Marx said. "I'm trying right now to get our noise ordinance upgraded so that it includes something about the bass. All we have right now has to do with the decibel level of the music."

Marx added that permanent residents aren't the only ones impacted by loud parties. Other Cal Poly students who are "more academically inclined" or have to work while being in college also bear the brunt. Martin, too, differentiated the students.

"It's not all the kids; we have some Cal Poly students living across the street from us, and they're fabulous. It's these rich, white, entitled, spoiled brats that aren't working, that drive Teslas and BMWs. Mommy and daddy have always taken care of it for them, and they just crap on the community," he said.

Other community members like Sandra Rowley, the chairperson of Residents for Quality Neighborhoods, think that Cal Poly can do better in terms of providing housing.

"I would attribute it to Cal Poly not building the on-campus housing that they've been discussing for years and years," Rowley said. "That would certainly lessen the impact, the number of students that look for housing in the neighborhood."

But not all students want to live on campus. Take it from Martin's neighbor Kyle Robert Anderson.

"I think a lot of people want to move out to a free market of neighborhoods into houses. You're not subject to the regulations of the school as much. You can usually find cheaper options of housing off campus. The fairness of pricing for students on campus is questionable. I pay $1,000 a month, whereas you have to pay $1,100 a month at Cal Poly," the second-year student said.

Anderson and his eight housemates received two first-time NSPY violations—one for them and one for their landlord, totalling $700—after police responded to complaints about their partying. Anderson said his parents are going to help out with his portion of the fine.

"We're very respectful. We get noise complaints on us all the time," Anderson said. "But the noise wasn't coming from our house. It was actually other college students. We got a citation from the city, and now we have to go through the appeal process. A lot of college students are trying to deal with this." Δ

Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal at brajagopal@newtimesslo.com.

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