Noise violation fines in College Area are unjust

by Chris Pocock

If you drive down College Avenue on a Friday night, you’re bound to witness a few spectacles: You’ll see at least one gaggle of freshly liquored underage girls, ambling home from a fraternity party in tiny, open-toed heels and tiny, exposing miniskirts.

If you drive down farther, you’ll undoubtedly also see a sulking group of tenants talking to a multitude of cops after their house party was broken up. You can probably guess who’s having the better night.

There’s good reason for the glumness. Often accompanied by the visit from our friendly neighborhood cops is a $1,000-per-tenant noise violation, which was instituted as part of a pilot program against “mini-dorms” in the College Area.

The program, specifically the “administrative citations” aspect, was a desperate move in an area known for contention between college students and growing families. “Mini-dorms,” are broadly defined as “single dwelling units occupied by multiple adults, which … adversely (affects) local single dwelling unit neighborhoods,” which have three or more living agreements. These tightly packed homes had been causing problems with fellow neighborhood families. After several community discussions, the $1,000-per-tenant ticket was found to be an appropriate response to the growing mini-dorm problem.

Three years later, it has become woefully clear how much the program has failed. The community has a valid right to address the mini-dorms issue, but the draconian response — often unceremoniously given by police before even giving a warning — is entirely manipulative of the student community living near San Diego State.

In a report given by the City of San Diego, an estimated $272,000 in funding per year would be generated from the program. What’s odd to me is that officers are expected to use their own discretion when giving the fine, though they work for the very institution the money goes toward. Considering the status of the city’s budget and the unpopularity of students in the surrounding area, it’s all too clear the damage this “solution” can hold, especially to a group already reeling from increasing fees.

But even further, there’s a surprising lack of conditions in the program. There doesn’t have to be any drinking — even underage drinking — for a fine to be given. Nor is there any defined number of guests to warrant the fine. Even if you’re asleep or not participating in the transpiring event and the police show up to bust, you’ll be on the hook for the fine as well.

Conceivably, any raucous poker night or sports-watching event among students could end with a $1,000-per-tenant fine — provided the tenants make enough noise to be heard 50 feet away from the house.

I’m not going to pretend the majority of these fines don’t take place at overinflated house parties, nor will I defend some overzealous idea about a student’s right to party. Enough of that has been done by The Beastie Boys.

What I would like to point out, however, is the glaring absence of fraternities from the list of offenders. While the fraternities are certainly eligible for the fine, they’re not targeted the same way the “mini-dorms” around SDSU are. A $1,000 fine — coupled with a potential (and astronomical) court fee that can exceed the fine itself, if the person facing the charge wishes to get the fine reduced — can bankrupt a student and effectively end their education at SDSU, especially considering they must pay the $1,000 within 10 days of the offense.

Fraternities, however, must pay a $3 fine for each of its members after a noise violation, and another fee ranging from $25 to $50 depending on the time of the violation. Even then, each fraternity is doled out a specific number of noise permits per semester, which allows them to break the noise violation until 11:30 p.m. that night, leaving them to be as loud as they choose with little or no intervention by police.

I’d like to call into question the idea of giving fraternities a free pass to party, regardless of the rules they have governing that set amount of time. These same institutions host underage drinking and a slew of other illegal activities, but somehow escape the scrutiny of house parties with not even a tenth of the number of partygoers.

As for the draconian fines, community service is a far more appropriate punishment for noise violations. Charging students an outrageous amount of money does nothing but further separate students from the community. Students should be able to work to improve the community instead of being bled dry — and risking an end to their educations.

—Chris Pocock is a journalism junior.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.

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