City council doubles party penalty to 120 days

Residents of Rohnert Park and partying college students have clashed for the past several years, with hundreds of complaints being logged by the Rohnert Park Police Department each month. It finally got to the point where an urgency ordinance was added to the Rohnert Park City Council’s agenda on behalf of Public Safety Director Brian Masterson on Tuesday, Aug. 13, with the proposal of doubling the current 60-day penalty for parties to 120 days and a $500 fine. In a unanimous 3-0 vote by the council, the amended ordinance passed.

“It’s disappointing that it had to occur at a time when so much of the student population was not present,” said Mac Hart, president of Associated Students. “I think the city just lost an opportunity to work together and save resources.”

Public Safety Director Brian Masterson began his power point presentation documenting the amount of calls in regards to noise complaints and disturbing the peace relating to student parties. He compared data from the past two and a half years with the past eight years, with both graphs showing the most popular months consistently being August, September and October. There has been no decrease in the number of complaints, with M-Section complaints being at an all-time high in recent years.

“As a member of the Education Committee, the suggestion that we fine on the first offense came from Sonoma State; it wasn’t our suggestion,” said Mayor Pam Stafford. “This ordinance affects every member in our community. We’re not trying to single out Sonoma State students, we’re telling everyone in this community.”

Before the public was invited to be heard on the matter, Stafford and Councilwoman Gina Belforte shared their own experiences living next to party houses over the years.

“On Saturday and Sunday mornings there were every conceivable kind of beer bottle and beer can you could find on the residents cars, in their driveways, they were [even] in mailboxes…when the [neighborhood] kids went outside to pick up the Sunday newspaper they would often find vomit on the driveways,” Belforte recalled when living next to two party houses. “We got tired of calling public safety and we got tired of asking the students because they really just didn’t care.”

When it was time for public comment, several Rohnert Park residents shared almost identical experiences. The vast majority of residents present were in favor of the new 120-day ordinance, seeing it as long overdue.

Students also made a presence, ranging from fraternity leaders to student government. Phi Delta Theta fraternity president Adam Rosenkranz was adamant about wanting to be a part of the solution, and not the problem.

“We’re striving to improve community relations by taking a proactive stance,” he said. “We have done trash clean-ups on weekends, we have noticed that the neighborhoods have gotten messy, and honestly, it’s been kind of disgusting at times.”

Newly elected Hart tried persuading the city council to postpone the vote to give the plans he and his fellow students spent dedicating their summer on a chance, but to no avail.

“Associated Students in the past has not taken an active role as Associated Students this year has,” he said. “We have an outreach through email, an outreach through flyering, and an outreach through social media that we’ve invested time and money in…If we postpone six to eight weeks, we’ll be able to use all our resources to see if we can take it upon ourselves as we have this summer to see if can have an impact.”

The city council commended the students present on being articulate in their arguments, but saw no reason why they couldn’t continue with their efforts simultaneously with the new 120-day ordinance in effect.

Councilman Amy O. Ahanotu even suggested he would have no problem decreasing the 120-day ordinance to something as low as 20 days if a noticeable change could be detected in the future.

Passing the new ordinance 3-0, the 120-day penalty is now in effect and will take most new and returning students by surprise when partying begins later this month. Many feel that the passing of the ordinance was definitely a blow to the students present.

“I think they [Rohnert Park City Council] forget that Sonoma State students are also constituents,” said Ace Vindiola, Sigma Alpha Epsilon eminent archon. “We may not be registered to vote in this city, but we are constituents who have a voice, and that clearly just showed that our voice as constituents are not the same constituents they’re talking about, because who they get reelected by is not us.”

“We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board,” said Hart. “We were taking this from a perspective of not a reaction, but a move to be a good community member that isn’t just acting on a new ordinance.”

“There’s a disruption issue in this community; this community is full of college students, and we need to do something about it,” said Hart.