Summertime, Legislation is Easy...
In July, the Eugene City Council passed a set of laws explicitly targeting student parties. Where were the students?BY DAN ATKINSON
When Ordinance 20160 was introduced to the Eugene city council on June 28, 1999, one could look into the window of a dorm room on Agate Street and have a clear view out the door, across the hall, and out the window of the opposite room. And when the Council approved it by a 6-1 margin on July 26, one could ride a bike down 13th Street on campus, blindfolded, without any fear of injury.
Ordinance 20160, which became effective August 26, struck a number of blows to the party culture surrounding UO. First, it raised the maximum fine for a Minor in Possession (MIP) offense from $100 to $250. Second, it introduced new laws prohibiting both possession of an unlabeled keg of beer, and false swearing on a keg receipt. Finally, it made illegal the act of allowing minors to consume alcohol on one's property, or to remain on one's property after consuming alcohol.
Throughout the three times the city council discussed the ordinance, the debate came back time and again to how it would affect students at the UO. When the ordinance was first brought before city councilors, it contained a specific reference to the UO "in the very beginning of the ordinance," city councilor Betty Taylor recalled for the Commentator. "It said something like, 'Because of problems at the University of Oregon'" So why was the ordinance passed during the summer, when more than two-thirds of all UO students were gone?
The most obvious answer, in this paranoid age, is that the city wanted to sneak the law into the books while no one was looking. They wanted to run the city machinery when it would be most free from the hindrance of those pesky "public input" wackos. While a lot of circumstantial evidence supports this theory, let us consider other explanations. Gary Papi, a city councilor who listed "public safety and positive youth activities" as his special interests, defended the timing of ordinance 20160 in a city council meeting on July 12. He claimed, according to council minutes, "that alcohol-related offenses increased with better weather over the entire city." Councilor Papi could not be reached for clarification. Nevertheless, the numbers don't seem to support his claim.
First, a table of monthly DUII arrests for 1997 and 1998, available on the Eugene Police Department website (www.ci.eugene.or.us/DPS/police/Statistics/DUIIarr.htm), shows no increasing trend in the summer months-in fact the numbers seem completely random. If anything, there was a discernible drop in arrests from May through July in both 1997 and 1998.
Second, though the Commentator was unable to obtain monthly MIP statistics from the EPD, statistics available appear to dispute Papi's assertion for MIP's as well. Out of the 1,001 MIP's issued in Eugene last year, 872 were issued on or around campus. One might thus deduce that more than 85% of all MIP's were issued largely to UO students. During fall, winter, and spring, there are 18,000 of us here. During the summer, there are 4,000 at the most. You can sort out the specifics yourself. Even if alcohol offenses do increase during the summer months, that seems a fairly wispy justification for the enactment of laws meant to stand, through all seasons, from now on-especially since the city code wasn't officially changed until August 26. City Councilor Bobby Lee had another explanation for the timing of the legislation. "There was a move to try to push it to the fall," he told the Commentator. But? "The problem was Halloween. Once you pass a lawthere's a time lapse that you have to deal with, and people wanted that ordinance to be enacted well before the Halloween timeframe."
Halloween, for the past several years, has been the time when the kids go crazy and the cops get scared. The pre-Halloween tension at the October 20 meeting of the Campus-Community Relations Task Force was thick. Those in attendance-officers from EPD and OPS, University officials, student leaders, and representatives of the Greeks and the co-ops-struggled to take a "proactive" view of things and gingerly hung their hopes on David Spade's Saturday night show at Mac Court. ("Hopefully he, out of all people, maybe he can save us this Halloween," mused Lee. With some nudging he came to his senses: "Yeah, probably not. Yeah. That's right.") Nevertheless, when the talk turned to teargas and beanbag bullets, it was clear that Halloween would come down, once again, to a matter of law enforcement. And it would be a matter of law enforcement against students. By the way the riots have been handled, there seems to have never been any question that it was a UO-centered problem. Therefore, Ordinance 20160 is specifically aimed at UO students, just as the original draft said it was.
So where does this leave us? There are two equally disturbing possibilities. The legislation may have been pushed through during the summer to avoid student input. On the other hand, it may have been pushed through during the summer because it was targeted at a specific student "event," the annual Halloween mjlie, at the expense of student input. Whatever the case may be, the student voice has been completely ignored on a piece of legislation aimed directly at students. Indeed, the entire process was contained between June and August: it was introduced June 28, less than three weeks after the end of spring term. It officially became law August 26, one month before fall term.
Probably as a result, the only public input the city council ever received was from one woman, Cindy Noblitt. Noblitt, an activist who works for the public access show "Cascadia Alive!", may not have even shown up at the July 12 council meeting if she hadn't seen it on TV at Doc's Pad. "I was watching the meeting down at Doc's Padand I realized there was hardly anyone there; no one was there to talk about it," she told the Commentator. "I told [the council it] seemed to be timed such that students weren't going to be around to say anything about it."
Noblitt feels that her input made a slight difference: "It did raise a few questions in some of the councilors' minds." Whether influenced by Noblitt or not, 4 of the 8 councilors did have serious doubts about the ordinance. Lee, Gary Rayor, David Kelly, and Taylor were all concerned about the size of the proposed fines. Lee and Taylor both had a number of other concerns; at one point the July 26 council minutes said Lee "would find it hard to support the ordinance." Yet, out of those four dubious councilors, only one person voted against the ordinance. Could more student input have swayed opinion on the council? One can only speculate.
Former ASUO President Lee was not the one dissenting voter; he ended up voting for Ordinance 20160, despite numerous reservations. Though he favors education to stiff fines for alcohol offenses, he saw the ordinance as "an opportunityCertainly, I think students should be allowed to drink," he told the Commentator. "But there also has to be some balance to ensure that the safety of students is also protected." He didn't seem to have any problem with the timing of the legislation and the lack of student input. "I think, certainly students can still voice, and say, it's just too much, and always change it back." Editorial comments on the likelihood of that happening will be withheld. The councilor most disturbed about every aspect of the ordinance, and the one dissenting voter, was Betty Taylor. "I don't think it will prevent students from drinking," she told the Commentator. "What [it] will do is just hurt people who are barely getting byfor some people every cent counts when they're trying to barely make it through school. I just thought the penalty was too much."
Taylor especially objected to the timing, urging the council to wait until "the people most affected" were back in town. "I thought they should have a chance to know about and to speak about it. I think summertime's a bad time to doanything monumental without previous notice."
With Ordinance 20160 now in effect, the EPD has been stepping up its alcohol enforcement efforts. According to an October 14 memo from Sgt. Rick Gilliam to the Eugene Police Commission, the EPD has hired six overtime officers for weekend party enforcement, and will have additional staff working on Halloween weekend. In addition to breaking up parties, the police "are doing bar checks," according to the memo. "In the first three weeks of fall term, we have found minors at Wild Duck, Rennie's and Taylor's."
The stepped-up enforcement has paid off. During those first three weeks, officers have cited 196 minors for MIP's in the campus area. That's almost 200 in three weeks, compared to 872 during all of last year. Each of those citations has the potential to pay off by $250, instead of the old $100. Could this increased enforcement have any connection to the higher fines? Mere speculation. All we can say is watch out. And happy Halloween.
Dan Atkinson, a junior majoring in Journalism, is Managing Editor of the Oregon Commentator