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SLO City Council approves unruly gathering ordinance, version 2.0 

If at first your city ordinance doesn’t accomplish what it was designed to do, try, try again.

That’s the spirit carried by San Luis Obispo while the city amended its aptly named unruly gathering ordinance. The SLO City Council approved the amendments at its July 21 meeting, which essentially beef up the police department’s ability to enforce the ordinance.

Originally established in 2010, the unruly gathering ordinance adds an expanded set of enforcement options that police can use in responding to parties that were deemed to be especially raucous.

The ordinance defines an unruly gathering to be one that has 20 or more attendees and is responsible for excessive noise, “obstruction of streets or rights-of-way by people or vehicles, public drunkenness, unlawful possession of alcohol or drugs, serving alcohol to minors, fights, vandalism, and littering on public property or private property not belonging to the host of the gathering.” 

Party hosts can be charged a $700 fine for the first violation and $1,000 for a second within a 12-month period. The ordinance also gives officials the options to notify a landlord and potentially hold them responsible.

The council added additional provisions to allow for the citation of partygoers, carrying a $350 fine for the first violation, $700 for the second, and $1,000 for the third.

In addition, new provisions enable parties to be considered unruly if they generate three or more complaints in a four-hour period, and if it “presents a threat to the health and safety of those in attendance, responding enforcement personnel, or occupants of immediately adjacent properties.”

SLO Police Department Capt. Chris Staley, the city’s acting police chief, recommended the changes because police had difficulty using the original ordinance as a significant deterrent to keep excessively wild and crazy parties at bay. The ordinance’s language, he said, was difficult to enforce.

“We’re simply trying to provide some other examples that aren’t so complicated in putting together what an unruly gathering is,” Staley said.

He added that when police officers first arrive to the scene, their priority is to secure the safety of the situation, rather than check for all the requirements that make the ordinance apply. 

“The documentation and the overall way it was written made it very difficult to accumulate all those conditions that would allow an officer to actually write a citation,” Staley said.

Staley also said that large gatherings like the March 7 “St. Fratty’s Day” calamity can fall through the cracks of enforcement options outlined in existing ordinances.

Still, some community members have concerns over where the line will be drawn between a loud party and one that’s out of control.

“Those two things are very, very different,” said Cal Poly student Jonathan Lampkin. “The students should not be placed with the burden of wondering whether the party that they are at is an unruly gathering, or a noisy one.”

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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