Opinion: Why this city ordinance is bad, and how it affects the campus party scene

Dage3 Kristine Castoria/THE REVIEW
Jacob Wasserman and Steve Mirsen make their case.

By this point, we all know about Ordinance 19-05 (the “Unruly Gathering Ordinance”), and the online petition protesting it, which has gained over 13,000 signatures in less than a week and an endorsement by SGA, the university’s Student Government Association.

While the ordinance aims to curb unruly “super parties,” the motivations for and mechanics behind its implementation, as well as its larger implications, pose a genuine cause for concern — and introspection about the campus’s party scene as a whole.

Screen Shot 2019-02-23 at 6.16.13 PM Courtesy of Katherine Nails
Newark City Bill No. 19

Full-time Newark residents and major property renters were consulted heavily in the drafting of the ordinance, but students, largely, were not. Penalties for renters were floated as a possibility, but when renters complained, it was not included. However, had students been engaged, it is safe to say, they would have made their grievances clear. The question is over how they would have been handled.

It is indisputable that over the past decade, the university has expanded into a considerable portion of Newark. As the university grew and student-residences became more common in the school’s surrounding off-campus neighborhoods, afternoon parties grew into weekly, rambunctious occurrences. Perhaps as a result, the Princeton Review recently dubbed the university the No. 1 Party School — a title that has been very controversial.

That ranking — contrary to the beliefs of many party-loving students — is a bad thing for all included parties (pun intended). It heavily irks many faculty members, for instance, who do not want their research and reputations devalued because people think of their university as a “party school” first and a serious academic institution second.

Consequently, the university’s administration feels compelled, along with the local city government, to crack down on parties that could theoretically harm their reputations, too. In turn, crackdowns ensue, subjecting the party scene to increased scrutiny.

Moreover, Newark residents who preclude the university’s expansion certainly hold legitimate grievances. Problems such as trespassing, public intoxication and other safety concerns do need to be dealt with.

However, those concerns must be addressed in a manner that does not provide overly broad discretion to the police. According to Ordinance 19-05, a party with four or more people that meets three of more of the listed criteria is technically considered a “super party.”

Many of those criteria are questionable, but none more than clause (b)(13), which states, “Where there occurs any other conduct that threatens the health, safety and good and quiet order of the City of Newark.”

This affords far too much discretion to local law enforcement, and can easily fall victim to any of a long list of biases.

Another “super party” criterion that seems far too broad is (b)(10), which is triggered when 20 or more pieces of trash are scattered in a yard. Is each officer going to go around and actually count 20 pieces of trash on the ground, or would they spend that time actually stopping crime? What counts as a piece of garbage? What if what was previously a single piece of garbage was accidentally ripped into two? Does it count as one or two pieces? What if a passersby dropped it in another yard?

Additionally, attendees within 1,000 feet of the premises cannot block “public rights of way” ([b][6]), be publicly intoxicated ([b][7]), commit criminal mischief ([b][8]), urinate in public ([b][9]) or sell illegal drugs ([b][11]).

That radius of 1,000 feet is far too broad, especially on streets where many parties are happening at once. How will an officer know which offenders belong to which house? Will this actually be accurately measured via tape measure? What happens if someone is publicly urinating within 1,000 feet of five houses, or ten? All of those acts are wrong and illegal in their own right, but the large radius complicates the application of this ordinance, rendering it far too discretionary.

Furthermore, setting the minimum-attendance threshold for a “super party” at four people appears contradictory, and proved a focal point of students’ outrage. Though City Council selected this number to avoid lowering the maximum number of 150 people permitted to assemble without a permit, another qualification for a “super party” citation specifically cites an excess of 150 people([b][5]). Subjecting gatherings of four people (146 below the maximum allowed to assemble) to such stringent scrutiny for the interest of shutting down parties with over 150 is a patently overbroad exercise of authority.

Though reason suggests that the police will reserve these citations for “super parties” that actually appear to fit this description — including people on rooftops, publicly urinating or obstructing traffic — the decision to yield this discretionary power solely to the police warrants criticism and concern.

Even though students’ frantic fears will likely prove overreactionary, the potential to impose such strict fines under narrow, often-ambiguous circumstances cannot be justified. Placing this power in the police’s hands and trusting them to limit its exercise to exigent circumstances only stresses the ordinance’s overbreadth.

We understand Newark residents’ grievances against the university’s encroachment into the larger Newark community — including large student parties but also with regard to recent developments in the university’s housing system. However, we feel that there are ways other than this ordinance to remedy the problem that the ordinance is trying to solve.

For one, if you want fewer parties that are interfering with the non-university community, there should be more areas for people to gather in areas like Main Street on the weekends. Places like Klondike Kate’s and Grotto’s Pizza are very popular, but they can only hold so many people.

Additionally, the university should at least consider allowing more lettered houses for Greek life organizations. While there are obvious drawbacks to this alternative, lettered houses would likely concentrate the large parties that the City Council seeks to limit, and keep them out of normal residential neighborhoods in the larger community. If the university and the city still wanted to closely monitor parties, they could concentrate on fewer areas.

The desire to limit the university’s encroachment on the Newark community is very understandable. However, we — and, apparently, more than 13,000 other people (according to the petition) — believe this ordinance misses the mark. It provides far too much discretion to the police, and only fosters mistrust between the community and students.

Jacob Wasserman is a sophomore political science student at the university. He is the president of the College Democrats of Delaware, and a senior reporter at The Review. He can be reached at jacobwas@udel.edu.

Steve Mirsen is a junior public policy and history double major at the university, and a guest contributor at The Review. He can be reached at smirsen@udel.edu.

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    Tracy McQueen 1 year

    “13,000 signatures” in less than a week, yet not one student comments in support of what you’ve just written. Apathetic student body? Or maybe you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.

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    Anthony 1 year

    “Full-time Newark residents and major property renters were consulted heavily in the drafting of the ordinance, but students, largely, were not.”

    While I applaud your actual reading of the ordinance, I think your article missed the point that the ordinance is targeted towards the ORGANIZERS of the event and only the organizer is civilly responsible for an Unruly Social Gathering (clause c).

    From what I understand the point of this ordinance is to hold organizers accountable. Most if not all of the behaviors set forth by this ordinance are already city ordinances. Take excessive littering (b)(10) for example–Article III Sec.16-42 already requires owners to maintain premises free of litter. I don’t see anyone petitioning against that? Sure, we can give a break for the property owner if some people are on the roof, or urinating, but if the owner is allowing three of these occur, come on now.

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