February 16, 2004

Forum Attendees Sound Off

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Noisy, belligerent and especially destructive college party habits were the topic of scrutiny at an Ithaca town forum yesterday afternoon. City residents were invited to the Women’s Community Building on Seneca St. to offer feedback on the Common Council Governance Committee’s proposed amendments to current noise ordinances. The ordinance itself inspired less discussion from meeting attendees than did desires to both share and defend the detrimental attributes that characterize college partying.

Proposed revisions to the ordinance include a clause directly addressing parties that continue after the police arrive and shut them down.

According to the new ordinance, if a party that has already been deemed disruptive by the police resumes after 30 minutes of the officer’s initial visit, the resumed party is considered a separate offense, and, therefore, constitutes a pattern of repeated offense subject to harsher penalties.

Especially controversial was an addition that described additional penalties for noise violations occurring in conjunction with two aggravated offenses. Behavior constituting such offenses ranges from sharing a common source of alcohol, such as a keg, to hosting more than 25 guests on the premises, to public urination.

Addressing specific offenses that often accompany noise violations, Ithaca residents articulated their frustration with party behavior that they characterized as obnoxious, destructive and offensive, and with the lack of law enforcement that current ordinances receive.

“I can’t imagine anything too stringent,” said one anonymous South Hill resident, before explaining that, over the years, rowdy students had torn down her fences, vandalized her car, urinated in her yard and smashed in her front door. Expressing frustration with inadequate Ithaca police responses, she rhetorically asked, “What happens to enforcement?”

Frances Weisman, a resident on Delaware Ave., offered the opinion that students are not totally to blame for their reckless behavior, that, in fact, they are merely the product of lax law enforcement and a university environment that allows this behavior to fester.

“There is no university administrator saying, ‘These events cannot continue,'” she said. “There is no city official saying ‘These events do not belong in the streets of Collegetown.'”

While students that attended the forum offered their regret that such offensive events occur, they also offered their perspective on college partying. Many maintained that the city provides little incentive for students to cooperate with civil codes of conduct.

“Nobody on campus even knows that this [event] is going on today,” said Ashley Higgins ’06, vice president of finance for the Cornell Panhellenic Association, implying that the Common Council had not made an adequate effort to solicit student views in the forum.

“There’s been no effort to talk to students and let them know what’s going on,” said Chase Nielsen ’05, vice president of community relations for the Cornell Interfraternity Council, suggesting that many students are not even aware that their behavior is characterized with such gravity.

Other students furthered this claim, arguing that there exists little investment in the relationship between college students and city residents in Ithaca.

“When students move into these [rental] houses, they are in such poor condition, that there is no incentive to take care of them properly,” said Jackie Koppell ’05, student-elected member of the Cornell Board of Trustees.

“Students will take on a personal responsibility for their behavior in a house, if they feel they have a personal investment in the neighborhoods,” said Stephanie Wedekind ’05, president of Panhel.

A final source of controversy existed in the ordinance’s stance on landlord liability for violations that occur on their property in their absence.

“There should be some sort of protective language for landlords that are trying to be part of the solution to these problems,” said one landlord representative.

Amendments to the current ordinance were inspired by the noise policies of East Lansing, Michigan, a college town that suffered from similar party-related behavior. In addition to receiving blame for creating a rift between the city and Michigan State University students, many argue that enforcement of the ordinance often violates student civil liberties.

Acknowledging that the East Lansing ordinances inspired some controversy, Pam Macesey ’89, chair of the Common Council Governance Committee and organizer of the forum, said, “We’d like to avoid a rift between the city and the students here.”

Joining Macesey on the Governance Committee are Michael Taylor ’05 and Gayraud Townsend ’05, two Cornell students who were elected to the Common Council last fall.

Ithaca residents are welcome to join another forum regarding this issue on Feb. 23 at City Hall.

Archived article by Ellen Miller