Berkeley community committee weighs in on regulations on student parties

Jessica Gleason/Staff

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The Berkeley Safe Neighborhoods Committee discussed Monday a proposed city ordinance responding to community concerns about noisy and drunken parties.

First brought before Berkeley City Council in March, the ordinance aims to protect neighbors from disturbances caused by unruly parties and to reduce incidents of alcohol-related deaths and sexual assaults. The ordinance would place regulations on “mini-dorms” — units inhabited by six or more residents over the age of 18 — and other group living arrangements, including fraternities, sororities and co-ops.

Among its provisions, the ordinance states that gatherings of 10 or more nonresidents in any type of group living arrangement must end before midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and before 10 p.m. the rest of the week. The ordinance would also require an on-site resident manager and would place restrictions on providing alcohol where it can be accessed by people under 21 years old.

Jim Hynes, assistant to the city manager, said at the meeting that mini-dorms often cause problems with excessive garbage and that noisy parties are a public nuisance. Additionally, mini-dorms are hard to track, according to Hynes, because the city relies on neighbors to report the mini-dorm status of a building.

Hynes said he and city attorney Zach Cowan recently met with several groups — including the Berkeley Property Owners Association, the Interfraternity Council and the ASUC — many of which proposed changes to the ordinance that are being applied.

Some meeting attendees expressed worry that the new laws would not be enforced. “The behavior that happens in south campus would not be tolerated on Northside or anywhere else,” said community member Yolanda Huang at the meeting. Huang added that easy access to alcohol at fraternity parties encourages binge drinking, especially among underage students.

The committee also brought up concerns that during certain times of year, the Alta Bates emergency room is crowded with drunken students and can therefore turn other community members away. Some locals at the meeting suggested that the campus’s Tang Center should provide its own emergency services to students.

At the meeting, police officers gave a presentation on recent crime trends. According to Berkeley Police Department Officer Jessica Nabozny, there has been a recent uptick in homeless encampments, including a growth in the population of homeless who are “service resistant.” Residential and automobile burglaries are also up.

The next meeting of the BSNC is scheduled for Sept. 14, and the committee plans to hold a town-hall-style meeting about noisy and drunken parties in order to “bring all the stakeholders together,” according to Hynes. There will be a City Council work session Sept. 29 where council members will look over the ordinance and most likely send it back to city staff with changes, according to Cowan.

Contact Mira Chaplin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @mirachaplin.