The Newport Beach City Council public study session on Tuesday, April 12 received heavy scrutiny due to some measures up for discussion, namely massive penalties and fines for loud and unruly gatherings and parties.
Item one of the study session served as a proposal to potentially enact an ordinance at an upcoming meeting. The ordinance proposal arose from Patrol and Traffic Division Commander Captain Dale Johnson’s research on a similar system currently in place in Tucson, Arizona, and opened with a presentation by Executive Officer of the Office of the Chief of Police, Lieutenant Bill Hartford.
Although the ordinance is currently just a proposal, its effects are already being felt throughout the Newport Beach community, especially among the many UC Irvine students who live on the Balboa Peninsula.
“Look at the bottom two items where it focuses on loud and unruly conduct that occurs and results in a nuisance … that’s a threat to the public health and safety and general welfare [of] the quiet enjoyment of residential and nearby properties, and that’s the basic focus of the ordinance and its intent,” Hartford said.
The posting of the red tag is a key part of the proposed ordinance in this program. When an officer observes an unruly gathering and believes that it is a public nuisance, he can post a sign, and also write a crime report. A notice is subsequently sent to the property owner.
Lt. Hartford went on to emphasize that the ordinance would focus on the rowdy party attendees who are causing the problems. He added that the ordinance would allow police officers to effectively focus on regulating parties or gatherings that have gotten out of control by sharpening officer response and putting extra tools at the officer’s disposal. The ordinance would not affect businesses. Instead, it deals exclusively with private parties.
“Even on the first violation, he can not only post this notice, but he can issue the civil citation as well,” Hartford said. “I know that the media has gone to great extent to notice the fourth violation for $8,000. There’s a lot of specific elements to that, being that the fourth violation has to occur in our safety enhancement zone — the Fourth of July between 32nd Street and 54th Street within that 27-hour window that’s designated by the ordinance, and this is the fourth violation. If you don’t get it by the fourth violation on the Fourth of July, I think you probably deserve an $8,000 fine.”
Removing or tampering with the red tags is a criminal offence, $1,000 fine or six months in jail and an additional $2,000 fine. There is an appeals process, with appeals to be submitted in writing within 30 days. The ordinance also contains provisions to assist landlords who make efforts to evict loud and unruly tenants, or otherwise ameliorate the situation.
“The city council seemed confused,” said UC Irvine senior Daniel Navarro, who attended the Tuesday study session. “The word they kept throwing around was unruly, which means an absence of rules. If the king comes to rule, he would say ‘stop being so unruly,’ and the people would say ‘Bitch, you can’t rule me.’ [The City Council] seemed confused, but they were generally supportive of the [ordinance]. Most of the people who talked said, ‘I’ve lived here for 20 years. I have kids. I can’t deal with this.’ It is what it is. I don’t really care.”
During a questioning period, City Council members expressed their concerns over with whom the responsibility for unruly parties and gatherings lies — with the tenant or the landlord. Lt. Hartford assured the council members and public attendees that response would be at the discretion of the responding officer.
As the discussion moved on, various concerns were expressed over the steepness of the fines. Councilman Keith Curry was generally supportive of the need for an ordinance but suggested further assessment of how the system works in Tucson, Arizona, capping the fines at $1,500-$2,000 and getting input from property owners. Councilmember Steven Rosansky also expressed mixed feelings on the fine levels, suggesting that police officers might be disinclined to issue such high citations.
“This is a tool that we use,” Hartford said. “It’s a reasonable measure tool that we will utilize with individuals that really aren’t responding to our efforts to quietly disperse the party.”
“Fuck that,” said UCI senior Nick Rael, upon reading about the ordinance, perhaps echoing the sentiments of many young Newport Beach residents.