San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

January 30th, 2009
San Marcos council to revisit 'host' ordinance

By SEAN WARDWELL
Managing Editor

The San Marcos City Council is looking at a tough ordinance revision designed to keep unruly gatherings at bay. Texas State student leaders are keeping an eye on the revision, concerned that it might target student residents.

Council will consider a revision of the city’s “host responsibility” ordinance, which deals with matters such as trash and noise, at Tuesday’s meeting.

The revision defines an “unruly gathering” as, “… a gathering of more than one person which is conducted on premises within the city and which, by reason of the conduct of those persons in attendance, results in the occurrence of more than one of the following conditions or events on public or private property; rioting; the unlawful sale, furnishing, possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages; the destruction of property; obstruction of roadways, driveways, or public ways by crowds or vehicles; excessive noise; disturbances, brawls, fights, or quarrels; public urination or defecation; or indecent or obscene conduct or exposure.”

If passed, the revision will give police officers more discretion in citing noise violations, changing the standard for enforcement from  “unlawful level of noise” to “excessive level of noise.”

The changes came at the request of city council, which previously expressed dissatisfaction with a state statute that holds up a “reasonable level of noise” as the standard for determining if a violation took place.

“There’s no major structural changes, per se,” San Marcos Police Chief Howard Williams said. “One of the problems the council had is exactly what is a reasonable amount of noise. We’re changing the term and getting away from the state statute.”

The ordinance does not stop with enhanced discretionary powers for police officers responding to noise complaints.

New penalties would be set for leaving bulky waste out for more than a day before a pre-scheduled pick up. Offenders could be cited for health and sanitation violations with fines as high as $2,000. Williams told city staff in a memo that the measure “…is intended to curb the problems of trash during the changes of semesters.”

Said Chris Covo, Associated Student Government’s (ASG) City Council Liaison, “The wording on it makes a lot of people uneasy. We will take a position on this after we’ve had a chance to look it over thoroughly.”

The city council will hear the first of two readings Tuesday night. ASG will consider the ordinance in committee next week, hoping to bring suggestions and concerns to council in time for the second reading.

Camille Phillips, President of the Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) said her organization had no part in putting forward the proposed revision. However, she said the city needs measures to protect neighborhood integrity.

“The larger issues are related to economic development,” Phillips said. “We need to protect investments. I think neighborhoods are important because if we want our community to grow in a good way, we need better jobs and we have to have places for professionals to live. A person could drive around San Marcos and see a good house and see a house next to it with ten cars. How many people would want to buy that?”

Williams said factors such as time of day, location, how the noise is being made, and sound amplification will be considered among other factors in determining if some level of noise is “excessive.”

Not only would the host of an “unruly gathering” be punished under the revision, but so would persons attending such gatherings. Guests, both invited and uninvited, could face individual noise violations.

Property owners could face new penalties, as well. The revision would make it unlawful for any owner or manager to permit unruly gatherings in any common area of a property. Property owners also could be cited for not allowing police officers to disperse such gatherings.

Furthermore, the draft allows the city “…to permit a fee for police responses to a property owner who does not meet with the Police Department and come to an agreement to prevent further violations” after police have responded twice to noise complaints from a property. A successful agreement means no fee can be charged. Failure to meet with police, failure to come to an agreement, or an unsuccessful agreement may result in a fee of $100 per police response to future violations.

However, the draft also states, “If an agreement includes non-renewal of the lease or eviction, there will be no charge for police responses to the property if the lease termination or eviction occurs within 60 days of the date of the execution of the agreement.”

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13 thoughts on “San Marcos council to revisit 'host' ordinance

  1. Funny how no council members seem to be associating themselves with this. I guess we can call this the “immaculate” ordinance.

  2. Whoa there! This can’t be a good ordinance. I’m in agreement with Craig on this one… This goes way too far. Why not just make San Marcos a police state and move on.

  3. Don’t we have plenty of laws on the books providing penalties for noise disturbances, public intoxication, blocking public streets, vandalism etc.?

    Why do we need new laws with “enhanced discretionary powers” for enforcement?

    If they break the law, enforce the existing laws. Why do we need to supercede state laws? Also, how are you defining a “host” at an apartment complex? Is it the most sober person? Is it the manager of the complex? Is it the owner of the complex? Or could it be just anyone that they feel like calling the host at the time. (ie discretionary)

    I won’t jump on the name-calling bandwagon and refer to this as a police state action. It appears to be just a myopic view of a way to fix some niggling issue that was bugging some of the “leaders” of our city without regard to whether it is a smart move.

  4. It is not a “niggling issue.” It is a significant safety and quality of life issue, for students and non-students alike, who have to live around the problem properties.

    That being said, it has never been explained to me why the existing ordinances are not sufficient. I understand that some of them aren’t as specific as some would like, or don’t carry the penalties that some would like, but each time the problem flares up, I don’t hear about a lot of enforcement that is having no impact, I hear about a lack of enforcement.

    The problems are easy to identify and easy to predict and when they get totally out of control and enforcement is stepped up, the problems get significantly better, with the current ordinances.

    How about proactively stepping up enforcement *before* things get bad? How about ongoing, even-handed enforcement once the problems are under control?

  5. We will be here, dealing with this problem forever, if we wait around for the “perfect ordinance.” Let’s start by regularly enforcing the ones we have, year-round, year after year, rather than once in awhile, when things get bad.

  6. It seems to me that even the current ordinance puts a burden on the landlords. I’m glad my rental property is not in San Marcos. These ordinances seem to be selectively enforced against the students. This is a college town after all. These students do spend money in our community and should not be targeted for seeking an education.

  7. How do you conclude that they are selectively enforced against students? It sounds like you are just stirring the pot. Enforcement has been minimal and the problem neighborhoods, according to the president of the university, among others, are composed of more non-students than students.

    Not only that, but the complaints about the noise OFTEN come from students.

  8. Your notion that anyone is “targeted for seeking an education” is too ludicrous to warrant a response.

  9. Our city government is just trying to over reach again, without even putting forth effort to enforce the ordinances in place.

  10. Yes, they could. Anyone who is here for any reason could choose to go somewhere else.

    That does not mean that they are being targeted because they chose to come here for an education. When a complaint about a loud party comes in at 4:00, nobody is checking a database to see if the people having the party are students before deciding whether to dispatch the police.

    Given the level of enforcement, one could much more easily say that the disruptive residents are being given a pass and whatever common group defines them all is being given preferential treatment.

    That being said, it still has not been demonstrated that a disproportionate number of the problem residences are student-occupied, or that a significant percentage of students are causing problems.

    Raising the student/non-student issue is just an easy way to stir things up and it makes me wonder if you have any interest in actually solving this issue.

    Do you live in one of the neighborhoods where the problems are occurring? Do you even live in San Marcos?

  11. Besides the fact that I’m generally adverse to the police having more power, I’ve got to go with Ted on this. Let’s not speculate about any one group being targeted. (FWIW, as a graduate student and a homeowner, I’ve got to say that the few occasionally loud people in my neighborhood are not other students…) Let’s consistently enforce the existing ordinances. If some of them need some more specificity, then they should be modified, but a over-reaching ordinance is not what is needed. The cops should have to measure noise complaints, they’re going to need it to back their tickets up in court. All of the other things that would make a gathering unruly are already illegal. These were the same problems with the ordinance the city tried to ram down our throats last year. Neighborhoods do need to retain their quality for all residents. Make a good faith effort to consistently and fairly enforce existing ordinances in this area, then if that doesn’t work, consider new ones. My guess is that if the city actually did that, we wouldn’t need any new ordinances.

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