January 27, 2004

Common Council Makes Noise Over C-Town Revelry

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The keg you put in your conveniently undersized kitchen could run you more than $60. The live music in your living room might cost you $20 or $30 — and don’t forget to add a few dollars for ice to keep the brew chilled. But the combined cost of your party could be as much as $1,000 if a proposal brought forth by Robert Sarachan, Ithaca assistant city attorney, is passed by the Ithaca Common Council.

Last night, Sarachan detailed a proposal at City Hall that would increase possible noise violation fines to a minimum of $250 or 50 hours of community service and a maximum of $1,000 or 200 hours of community service and/or up to 15 days in jail. While it is considered unconstitutional to force a defendant to submit to community service, many law violators who cannot afford expensive fines choose community service. Sarachan’s proposal is based on similar legislation currently in place in East Lansing, Mich.

An aggravated noise violation could incur the maximum penalty, depending on the severity of the violation. The presence of a keg, DJ, amplified sound faced toward windows, a cover charge, public urination, more than 25 people or the presence of underage drinkers coupled with a noise violation could place a hefty financial burden upon party hosts in Collegetown.

“If any two of these are present with a noise violation, then a noise violation becomes aggravated,” Sarachan said.

Sarachan also proposed that noise violations more than half an hour apart in a single night should constitute multiple violations, as opposed to a single repeated violation incurring only one fine.

“We’re just putting it in the code,” Sarachan said.

Generally, the custom is to cite party hosts only once for repeated noise violations.

“They’ll give a warning first, then come by and issue a ticket,” said David Whitmore ’96 (D-Second Ward).

Although landlords are often not present at Collegetown parties, they may currently be cited and could face jail time if their lessees are charged with noise violations. During his tenure as assistant city attorney, Sarachan said that he has never encountered such a case, but he omitted that penalty in his revision of the noise violation legislation.

“However, [landlords] can get a civil penalty” under his revisions, Sarachan said. He has proposed that landlords may receive a $50 fine but no jail time.

Sarachan’s legislation would also provide an easier outlet for police officers to issue tickets for open containers of alcohol. Police would be allowed the presumption that a container that looks like it might contain alcohol, such as a wine bottle or beer can, indeed contains alcohol. Some people claim to police that such containers in fact contain a legal beverage, Sarachan said, and his changes would allow officers to swiftly enforce the open-container code. However, “it doesn’t mean anyone is guilty of anything,” Sarachan said.

While Whitmore agreed with much of Sarachan’s proposal, Michael Taylor ’05 (D-Fourth Ward) took main offense to the proposed aggravated noise violation. He said that it is not fair to enact multiple noise offenses if party hosts are not informed of their first offense, and that Sarachan’s penalties take “the socializing characteristics of a certain group of people” and impose undue chastisement.

Despite Taylor’s objections, Sarachan’s proposed revisions were received positively by most council members.

“This is for discussion tonight, so it could come back to our committee in a cleared-up form,” said Pamela Mackesey ’89 (D-First Ward).

The Ithaca Common Council will examine Sarachan’s noise violation changes further next month in City Hall.

Archived article by Clark Merrefield