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

March 5th, 2009
'Unruly' gathering law makes first pass

San Marcos Police Chief Howard Williams speaks to the city council on behalf of the host responsibility ordinance revision. Photo by Andy Sevilla.

Associate Editor

An updated San Marcos noise and host responsibility ordinance secured approval on first reading from city council members at Tuesday night’s meeting after the council tabled a first pass last month.

The debate Tuesday night produced heated argument and, ultimately, a council committee tasked with clarifying criteria for “prudent” host responsibility and behavior.

“If we are going to put an ordinance into effect, I want to make sure people who are responsible can abide within the guidelines,” Said Councilmember Chris Jones, who pushed for the prudent host criteria. “The discretion of (the ordinance) makes it really hard for a person to abide by (the law).”

The ordinance had been previously tabled because council considered the language “vague.” Council directed city staff to meet with various groups influenced by the legislation in efforts to take public input.

Councilmembers John Thomaides, Kim Porterfield, and Jones will lead the committee in deciding what guidelines for host responsibility can be added to the legislation’s language before the second and final reading. The new proposed amendments would eventuate less discretionary police authority and provide clear rules on residents’ responsibility.

“I want a definition or clear criteria of a prudent hosting,” Jones said. “I think we owe the citizens the opportunity to be law abiding citizens. There is no prudent standard as to being law abiding. The standard is dependent of who (which police officer) shows up.”

Among dissenters, discretionary authority is not the lone hang up. Property owners and local realtors have voiced concern over an order in the legislation that would assess fines to proprietors whose tenants hosts “unruly gatherings.”

The legislation states that “It is unlawful for the owner or manager of an apartment complex to knowingly allow an unruly gathering to occur or continue in a common area.”

The San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) also is requesting power to disperse “unruly” gatherings.

“We do not have a specific authority to tell people to leave (an unruly gathering),” Police Chief Howard Williams said. “What happens is, we fall back on citing and arresting people for other infractions, such as public intoxication or a custody arrest.”

Williams said “unruly gathering” complaints to the police department usually start at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and at about midnight on Friday and Saturday.

The ordinance defines “unruly gatherings” to consist of more than one person within the city limits, to result in more than one of the following conditions or events:

·         Rioting,

·         Unlawful sale, furnishing, possession, or consumption of alcohol,

·         Destruction of property,

·         Obstruction of roadways, driveways, or public ways by either crowds or vehicles,

·         Excessive noise,

·         Disturbances,

·         Brawls, fights, or quarrels,

·         Public urination or defecation, and

·         Indecent or obscene conduct or exposure.

“Excessive noise” is defined as “noise that can be heard across property lines or enter a residence other than the residence from which the noise originated.”

In coming up with the new amendments for the proposed legislation, Williams met with Texas State University’s Associated Student Government (ASG), the Austin Apartment Association, local apartment managers, and the San Marcos Area Board of Realtors.

Chris Covo, the council’s student liaison, said ASG will take a stance on the ordinance in the days to come.

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0 thoughts on “'Unruly' gathering law makes first pass

  1. Chris Jones brings forth real and true concerns. I’m not in anyway saying police officers are out to antagonize any party hosts, although that may not exactly always be entirely true. It is a good ordinance, but it has some workings that need to be tweeked. All in all, I think the council’s decision to meet with city groups was a positive one. And even better action was to appoint 3 council members to look into the question of responsible hosting.

  2. Even if they are forced to leave the party, they need to be responsible for their actions and not drive drunk. If they do they should be arrested.

  3. I dont think there will ever be a happy medium. The intent of the council, police or anyone for that matter, is to have drivers out in our roads who have been drinking. At the same time, we dont loud, out of control parties happening at all times of the night. Legislation is appropriate and needed in this case, but the issue runs deeper than this proposed ordinance. Our city needs to invest in mass transit or alternative transportation, because we cant have cops dispersing parties, resulting in drunk drivers, and we cant have cops preventing drunk drivers by allowing unruly gatherings. Its a tough call, where are city leaders really need to do research and come up with a reasonable and acceptable policy.

  4. After-hours clubs (or after-hours operations at the clubs that are open until 2), where people can sober up, would be a big help.

    As I understand it, one DWI arrest consumes one officer for several hours, so it would be highly improbable that the police would be able to arrest every drunk leaving the party, even if they wanted to.

    That being said, it does seem unwise to be drunk at a party, bar, or anywhere else, with no sober ride home. The fact that the police break up the party, or the person living there gets tired and sends everyone home, or anything else happens, does not make them the reason you’re drunk and behind the wheel.

    When the party ends, for whatever reason, it is your responsibility to act like an adult and take care of your own business.

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