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Noise Ordinance


Gag Reflex

The City of Santa Cruz welcomes students back with a party-killing new noise ordinance

By Steve Sanchez

Thanks to an amendment made this summer to the Santa Cruz noise ordinance, your neighbors' telephones have pretty much been transformed into party-killing bazookas. Don't believe us? Well, in much the same spirit in which we'd invite our younger cousins to touch an electric fence, we dare you to throw a party with the new ordinance in place. Whereas last year you'd get a warning after the first call and a $35 fine if someone else complains within the next 12 hours, this year things will go down a bit differently. If an officer determines that your gathering is "loud or unruly," you'll get a warning, and your landlord and parents will get certified letters in the mail to that effect. If it happens again within the next 12 months, you, your landlord and your parents are jointly and severally responsible for a $250 fine--followed by $500 and then $1,000 and a misdemeanor criminal charge. In addition, "special security services charges" will also be assessed to cover the cost of deploying the police and any administrative costs associated with the incident.

Got booze? If you're under 21, the ordinance includes a shoutout to you: "The City Police Department shall strictly enforce any and all applicable state laws pertaining to the service of alcohol to minors, and the consumption of alcohol by minors, and with respect to minors in possession of alcohol, the Police Department shall establish a "no tolerance" protocol by which the Police Department contacts, or causes the minor's school to contact, the minor's parents or legal guardians whenever the minor is found to be in possession of alcohol or narcotics or found to be intoxicated at a loud or unruly gathering. Where the minor's school has an internal student disciplinary office, any such incident shall likewise be reported to that office."

Why the harsher new penalties? To make a long story short, tales abound of students throwing huge parties where you all get wasted, make a bunch of noise, fight each other, pee and puke on your neighbors' lawns and turn the flags up on their mailboxes even though there's no outgoing mail. Apparently it's just what students do, and the neighbors don't like it. So they (your neighbors) all got together and hatched a plan to fine the crap out of you, your "absentee landlords" and the human wallets (your parents) you rode in on.

Savvy landlords won't have to think twice about the new ordinance. The California Apartment Association of Santa Cruz County has already developed a special addendum for lease agreements which "transfers the responsibility of the fines back to the residents, lease holders and co-signers, not the property owner."

That leaves the burden on you and your parents. Good luck with that.

We're Not Gonna Take It

According to residents like Lisa Mastramico, the 34-year-old assistant field study coordinator for the UCSC community studies department, the council went too far, too fast. While Mastramico agrees that the ordinance needed amending, she says the change was like going "from point A to point Z. Why would you jump from here to there and not try anything in between?"

In a letter to City Council members, Mastramico wrote that the amended ordinance "disproportionately punishes and disadvantages renters in an already extremely difficult market. The vicarious liability provision, as currently written, does not truly give renters a warning (it is punitive to send your landlord and/or your parents a certified letter)."

Back in June, Mastramico invited friends over to celebrate her birthday, a gathering she says was neither loud nor unruly, "but, under this ordinance, my landlord would now be receiving a certified letter and would probably not renew my lease coming up next month."

Another losing group are those involved the underground house show scene. Amitai Heller, the 22-year-old lead singer of the local band New Thrill Parade, says the ordinance is already killing off underage students' last venue for creative expression.

"I do empathize with neighbors," says Heller, "but I think people are pushed towards doing house shows out of necessity because of lack of venues ... and people are scared shitless to put on shows now. This ordinance has a really amazing potential to kill the independent music scene here."

Aaron Emmert, 23, of the band Mammatus, says that the ordinance may have been intended to shut down the big "bro parties" on the West Side, but will, as a side effect, penalize people who put on house shows, no matter how tame.

"They can barely afford to pay the rent," says Emmert. "No one can afford the ticket."

Which is exactly how some of your neighbors want it, but Heller thinks it's a step in the wrong direction.

"This town prides itself so much on being artsy and counterculture," says Heller, "a haven for queer, strange experimental things, and yet it's slowly gentrifying. You'd think in a place like this you could be an artist without having to Thomas Kincade out."

Mastramico authored an article titled 'Party On?' for the 'Student Disorientation Guide,' which she hopes will spark interest in a campaign to amend or repeal the ordinance. To get involved, email [email protected]

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From the September 21-28, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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