Neighborhood Assignment #3:
Are you a student at the University of Oregon and like to party? Well, if you’re the host, you better keep things under control. Or you may run the risk of stiff legal punishments. The Eugene City Council passed the Social Host Ordinance on January 28, 2013. According to the City of Eugene’s website, http://www.eugene-or.gov/index.aspx?NID=2373, “The law holds individuals criminally responsible for hosting, organizing and allowing an unruly event or social gathering.” Furthermore, the hosts of such parties could face fines ranging from $350 to $1,000.
On Friday afternoon, I ventured into the South University neighborhood to interview residents on this subject. I interviewed three different people who either worked or lived in the neighborhood; their names were Austin Palacios, Douglas Berry and Danielle Mrkvicka. I felt it was important to get subjects of different occupations, ages and ethnic backgrounds. By doing this, I received a diversity of views regarding the Social Host Ordinance topic.
As I walked past one of the fraternity houses, I noticed a man doing custodial work on the property. I talked to him and he introduced himself as Douglas Berry. Berry is a 50-year-old man, who has owned his own landscaping business for twenty three years. He’s also a veteran of the U.S. military. As someone who works in the student filled South University neighborhood, I thought Berry would provide a unique perspective on the Social Host Ordinance.
Berry told me that he had read an article in the Register Guard relating to the new ordinance. He was also aware that the Eugene police had made several recent arrests due to underage drinking.
Berry acknowledged the concerns of property owners in the South University neighborhood, “I can see the valid concern of underage drinking because if I remember at the recent incident, there was alcohol poisoning.” Berry said. “So they’re concerned about people jumping off the roof because they’re intoxicated, jumping in front of traffic, or peeing on somebody’s front yard…” According to him, some students occasionally cause property damage to their own houses and those of their neighbors. He talked about how he is sometimes forced to pick up broken beer bottles from people’s lawns.
However, Berry believed there needed to be a balance between the enjoyment of party goers and respect for other neighbors. He believed students should refrain from underage drinking, considering that it’s illegal. He added that the University of Oregon carries responsibility on this issue. He thought the University needed transparent communication with both the city and the homeowner associations of various neighborhoods.
Furthermore, Berry expressed serious concern towards the current state of civil liberties in Eugene, Oregon. Berry clarified that he didn’t have a personal issue with the Eugene Police Department. However, he simultaneously felt police were seeking to curtail the constitutional rights of citizens, “There’s a growing sense of the United States in general, and Eugene, Oregon being no exception… of where the police seem to becoming more militarized” Berry said. “And so instead of a police force where the police are serving the community, it’s growing into more of a police state.” For this reason alone, Berry was hesitant to see police gain additional powers through this law.
After I spoke with Berry, I wanted to get a student perspective on the issue. I went to the corner of University Street and East Eighteenth Avenue. While I was there, I interviewed a twenty two-year-old student named Danielle Mrkvicka who lives in the neighborhood. We discussed the Social Host Ordinance and her perspective on the matter.
Mrkvicka told me that she was aware of the ordinance. She said she rarely heard disruptive noises where she currently lived. She added that she previously lived closer to fraternities and would hear a lot more noise; however, she didn’t feel bothered by it. Mrvicka believed that students behave fairly well in the area, “Fine, I’ve never had any problems. I know there are some issues with crime. But it’s usually sexual assault that I hear about, and not partying or things in that vein.”
Mrvicka believed that students at parties had a responsibility to remain respectful. Despite this, she felt that ordinance was unfair, “I’m disappointed that they’re cracking down so harshly because most of the people I know who have house parties, are small and contained…” said Mrvicka. “Very rarely has it been an issue.” She did say that she rarely frequents parties, so the ordinance didn’t affect her. Therefore, the ordinance wasn’t a major concern to her personally.
I also interviewed another student in the South University neighborhood, named Austin Palacios. Palacios is a twenty-year-old man, who is studying at the University of Oregon. He was aware of the Social Host Ordinance and was not in favor of it, “I’m uncomfortable with it because I do feel that it punishes students for actions that aren’t entirely theirs.” He believed that the law unfairly labels students as a group rather than focusing on the behavior of individuals. He also felt it important to make a distinction for different groups of students, as well as variances in behavior from year to year.
Additionally, Palacios believed that students who hosted controlled gatherings could be susceptible to unjust punishments. He expressed concern over the cost of these fines for financially struggling students. Palacios argued that $350 to $1,000 was far too harsh a penalty; especially, considering that under this ordinance, it could be someone else who was involved in the destructive behavior.
For this assignment, I interviewed three different individuals living in the South University neighborhood. Each of them had a different perspective on the recently passed Social Host ordinance. It’s obvious that the Social Host Ordinance is a controversial topic, not only in the South University neighborhood but the entire city of Eugene, Oregon. Many property owners find the new law sensible, while there are students vehemently opposed to it. However, some simply wish to see a balance between the enjoyment of party-goers and respect for residents and their property. Only time will tell how the new law works in practice.
A local fraternity house in the South University neighborhood.
Douglas Berry standing by a house where he works.
Danielle Mrkvicka posing near the border of the South University neighborhood and the University of Oregon.
Austin Palacios standing by after sharing his thoughts on the recent ordinance.