By Tina Richards
A lone student party house in Villa Park that has been drawing neighborhood complaints since last summer prompted the city council to consider toughening three ordinances that would affect every resident but produce questionable consequences for the of- fending domicile.
The house, located at 18011 Wellington Circle, is a rental property occupied by four or five Chapman University students. Neighbors have complained to the city, the sheriff’s department and the university about all day and late night parties that attract 200 or more revelers. The noise, neighbors say, keeps them awake at night; party goers spill onto the street in front of their homes; trash is strewn about and under- age drinking is the norm.
Sheriff’s officers have been called to the home 21 times in the last year with most visits taking place over the last few months. Residents complain that law enforcement does little to return peace to Wellington Circle.
Villa Park’s Law Enforcement Advisory Committee (LEAC) was also privy to neighbors’ complaints and determined that the sheriff needed more “tools” to deal with the disruptive party house. LEAC suggested that the city beef up its loud party, noise and social host ordinances to give them more “teeth” that law enforcement could use to issue citations.
Arm of the law gets longer
The loud party amendment would extend the second infraction penalty from “within 24 hours,” to 365 days. Fines would be doubled to $1,000. Modifications to the noise ordinance would expand the definition of “noise” to include everything from radios and amplifiers, to musical instruments to mechanical equipment to shouts, exhaust, animals and birds. The ordinance would allow a peace officer to confiscate the source of the noise. The social host liability ordinance would be widened to target underage drinking at “private gatherings at private homes;” one’s neighbors need only report their observations of underage drinking to the sheriff and the “responsible adult” would be cited and fined.
The majority of the Villa Park City Council opposed the stricter ordinances during public hearings held Feb. 23. Mayor Greg Mills and council members Rick Barnett and Diana Fascinelli agreed that it was not right to inflict “more rules” on the entire populace to deal with the activities at a single house, that sufficient ordinances were already on the books and that the new guidelines would be impossible to enforce.
On the street where you live
Councilman Bob Collacott advised that the harsher ordinances would not affect all residents because the sheriff would “use discretion” when responding to complaints. Councilman Bill Nelson stressed that the ordinances were not aimed at just one house, but were intended to prevent future problems. “When Orange cracks down, [on party houses] they’re going to come here. It’ll be next door to you,” he said.
Many residents who attended the meeting agreed that a “kid practicing the flute” was not noise and that 365 days was too long to incur a second infraction. “If the sheriff comes to my house because someone complains about my kid’s birthday party,” one citizen inquired, “does that mean I can’t have another party for a year?”
“You’re taking our rights away from us,” a 25-year resident pointed out. This baffles me, we don’t want to live in a police state because of one neighbor.”
The Wellington Circle neighbors disagreed. Several complainants used the public hearing to report horror stories of chairs thrown into their yards, parties commencing at midnight, an uncaring absentee landlord, students peering over their fences, shouted obscenities and drunkenness. “We’re desperate,” said Ellen Kincaid. “This has to stop.”
The council heard the same stories over and over as each individual ordinance was brought up for public comment. More time was spent talking about the “frat house” than the ordinances themselves.
It did become clear, however, that existing ordinances had not been enforced. The sheriff apparently could not issue citations to the party hosts unless a written complaint was filed. “Someone has to be a victim of a crime,” Sheriff Rob Gunzel said. “That requires a written complaint.” But the neighbors had not been advised of that.
Now you tell us
“I gave my name and address every time I called,” said one Wellington resident. “No one told me I had to sign something or else I would have.”
The sheriff also explained that while underage drinking was suspected, there weren’t enough officers to check the IDs of 200 people. Mayor Mills suggested the city consider paying for an additional officer if it would improve enforcement.
“Do we need more laws?” Barnett asked. “Or do we need to enforce what we have? We should address the specific problem; the city can pursue injunctive relief.”
Fascinelli noted that events with 300 people in attendance should require permits. “We should look into that,” she said. Ultimately, the loud party ordinance was amended to extend the 24 hour repeat cycle to 30 days and increase the fine to $1,000. The other two – noise and social host liability -- were defeated.