Texas State student council liaison Chris Covo thinks about how a new host responsibility ordinance might impact students. San Marcos City Manager Rick Menchaca is in the background. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
By ANDY SEVILLA
San Marcos City Council approved a new noise and host responsibility ordinance Tuesday night by an easy 6-1 vote, though that one dissenter didn’t make the discussion easy.
Councilmember Chris Jones opposed the ordinance after amendments he proposed gained no traction. When the council passed the ordinance on first reading last month, Jones insisted that the council include some kind of provisions for what constitutes a “prudent party host,” so as to inform citizens about what steps would inure them from prosecution.
“The reason I wrote the amendments was not for (San Marcos Police) Chief (Howard) Williams, but for the students and the citizens to understand (the ordinance),” Jones said.
Jones proposed what he called “clear standards” for city residents to specifically understand what actions could potentially put them in violation of the law. He said the proposed amendments would reduce vagueness without hindering the police. Jones’ proposals included violation specifications on time of day, decibel levels, and an increase from “more than one” to at least five partygoers. The rest of the council did not bite.
Opponents of the ordinance revision argue that the ordinance’s language leaves police discretion open. Texas State University student leaders have voiced concern that student “profiling” may be an underlying issue, as well.
“Although this ordinance may not be ideal for the student community, it will serve as a common ground between our peers and the city,” said Christopher Covo, city council liaison and university president-elect, as he read the university’s Associated Student Government (ASG) position on the legislation. “…Students are trusting that all citizens will be treated equally (by police) no matter their age or affiliation to this university.”
An ad hoc committee comprised of city staff, Jones and Councilmembers Kim Porterfield, John Thomaides was charged with proposing less vague language and added a preamble to the ordinance. The addition, Thomaides said, concentrates in providing information on what the ordinance’s intent is, and what the new changes are.
The city has continuously been troubled by noise complaints. An ordinance to alleviate such problems has been in the making for at least two years.
“I think we all agree in spirit that we want this to be concrete and to work,” Porterfield said.
In efforts to see the “whole picture”, councilmembers summoned the opinion of all parties affected. However not all were forthcoming. Municipal Judge John Burke declined to speak before city council on the ordinance or its language, saying that it causes conflict of interest as it can presume how he will rule in future cases.
The ordinance defines “excessive noise” as noise extending beyond property lines, although police officers can arbitrate the violation based on time of day and size of the gathering. The ordinance also provides officers with authority to disperse any “unruly gathering,” as well as assess fines to property owners.
The ordinance defines an “unruly gathering” as an assembly of more than one person partaking in more than one of the following conditions or events on public or private property within the city:
· Unlawful sale, furnishing, possession, or consumption of alcoholic beverages;
· Destruction of property;
· Obstruction of roadways, driveways, or public ways by crowds or vehicles;
· Excessive noise;
· Disturbances, fights, brawls, or quarrels;
· Public urination or defecation;
· Indecent or obscene conduct or exposure.
Property owners now are on the hook, as well. If two verified violations on the property take place and the owner or manager doesn’t contact the police within ten days to work out a plan to stop those infractions, then those property owners can be assessed fees of $100 for each related police response.
If the property owner and police make an agreement to eliminate further violations, then a violation occurs within 90 days, the property owner will be assessed a $300 charge – $100 for the violation after the agreement, and $100 for each of the previous two police visits.
The ordinance will go into effect on May 12.Email | Print