By ANDY SEVILLA
A spirited debate took center stage at Tuesday’s San Marcos City Council meeting, where citizens and councilmembers voiced so much opposition to a revised “host responsibility” ordinance that it never went to a vote.
Indeed, the council majority found little to recommend in the proposal to address noisy gatherings and residential bulk waste in one sweeping act of legislation, objecting not merely to its contents, but to its structure. Thus, the council decided to break the proposal in two, tabling the noisy gathering portion until later this month and leaving aside the bulk waste portion for a much later date.
Council will return to the noisy gathering side on Feb. 17. Mayor Susan Narvaiz requested that Police Chief Howard Williams meet with Texas State’s student government and the media in efforts to educate the public and receive input.
Williams presented the ordinance revision, which replaces references to “unlawful level of noise” with “excessive level of noise,” while adding measures by which the San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) can deal with “unruly gatherings.” Williams said the revisions would enable SMPD to better do its job.
“We’ve been working on this since 2007, trying to find solutions,” Williams said.
However, councilmembers took exception to the possibility of arbitrary enforcement, noting that the guidelines for “excessive noise” and “unruly gatherings” lack specificity. Meanwhile, citizens complained about possible new penalties for property owners and managers.
The proposal would expand host responsibilities with respect to trash, alcohol, parking, and unruly gatherings while also widening the responsibilities of party goers. It would give SMPD more tools for dispersing unruly gatherings and create a fee structure by which property owners would have to pay SMPD for responding to repeat complaints about their properties.
“I’m in favor of protecting our values,” Don Garrett of San Marcos said during the citizens comment period. “But I am concerned our city is trying to transfer responsibility from a perpetrator to a landlord.”
The proposal warrants a written notice to property owners/managers after police are called out to a property for noise violations. On receiving the notice, the landlord is given ten days to contact SMPD and agree on strategies to prevent further violations. If SMPD is called to that property for a related complaint within 90 days of that agreement, the landlord would be billed $100 for each call to that property for six months.
“I feel like it’s a slippery slope,” Rick Skiles of San Marcos said to the council. “I prefer the council not accept things that transfer responsibility from one person to the other.”
SMPD Assistant Chief Lisa Dvorak told councilmembers that “this is ordinance is intended to alleviate problems in repeat locations,” while City Attorney Michael Cosentino said the ordinance goes beyond the state statute and “makes it clear what unreasonable noise is.”
The council majority was even more dismissive of the residential bulk waste provisions, despite passionate defenses from Councilmembers John Thomaides and Gaylord Bose.
Echoing Council of Neighborhood Associations (CONA) President Camille Phillips, Thomaides said residential bulk waste is “a problem” for San Marcos.
“This really reflects really poorly on our community,” Thomaides said. “This really hurts our community, to appear this way.”
The ordinance requires arrangements for special collections of bulky waste to be made in advance of placing said items at the curb. An infraction could result in a penalty not to exceed $2,000.
“I think its fine as it is,” Councilmember Kim Porterfield said. “This (revision) is unreasonable.”
Porterfield presented a hypothetical situation of an elderly person only being able to remove bulk waste when “a grandson comes to visit,” or having to alter cleaning plans to synchronize them with pick up times. Narvaiz echoed Porterfield, adding that residents “are probably not aware of what to do.”
The council debated the issue and ultimately decided to table it in efforts to educate the public and encourage participation and dialogue, which got off to a roaring start at the dias.
“If you have to throw stuff out, you have to call and be responsible,” Thomaides said.
Said Narvaiz, “We haven’t said it very clear. We haven’t advertised how to get your bulky waste picked up.”
Councilmember Chris Jones said multi-family homes presented a different challenge, particularly as they “turn” while students move out. Jones said such instances could not be tested under the same guidelines as single-family housing. But Councilmember Gaylord Bose said said the matter should be simple.
“It’s our responsibility to keep our city neat and clean,” Bose said. “Either be responsible or pay the consequences.”
For now, anyway, the consequences won’t involve fines of up to $2,000.Email | Print