Capping off two years of debate over the intrusively loud — and occasionally violent — behavior of SBCC students on the Mesa and lower Westside, the City Council voted Tuesday to amend its residential noise ordinance with stricter terms and steeper fines. The new rules were crafted by the SBCC Neighborhood Task Force after a similar San Luis Obispo County ordinance that successfully reduced Cal Poly–related complaints by nearly a third.
Noise disturbances are now defined as any sound audible more than 50 feet from the source that travels across property lines between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., city staff explained. Those sources could be televisions, speakers, instruments, or even pets. Offenders could get a warning or fine of up to $350 for the first violation. The second would be $750 and the third $1,000. The Task Force was motivated by a desire to not criminalize offenders with misdemeanors, so the fines will be administrative, though public-nuisance charges could be pursued, City Attorney Ariel Calonne said.
Neighbors expressed gratitude that after so much sweat to get them written, the ordinance amendments were finally on the books. An SBCC spokesperson offered the school’s support for the new rules, as did a manager of Beach City, the massive student housing complex on Cliff Drive. Lower Westside resident Beebe Longstreet was similarly pleased but lamented how much her neighborhood has changed over the last 30 years. “It’s a transient population,” she said. “When you know your neighbors over several years, you respect each other. When it changes every six months, it’s really hard.”
Two SBCC students, Emily Gribble and Lexi Valas, both members of the school’s Student Senate, told the council the new fines were “absurdly” steep for “playing music at 10:30 on a Saturday night.” Gribble asked the councilmembers to reflect on their college days and suggested, “There is just a lack of communication between students and families.” Valas said she and others were unaware noise-ordinance discussions were even taking place before this week’s vote.
A few speakers — and some councilmembers — suggested the law could expand to other parts of the city, including Elings Park and the State Street corridor. But for now, they agreed, the neighborhoods deserved the attention.