A large crowd of Halloween revelers gathered on Channing Way, near Piedmont Avenue, in Berkeley, late Saturday. Photo: David Yee
A large crowd of Halloween revelers gathered in Berkeley in what officials described as a riot. Photo: David Yee

Citing a riot on Halloween and three alcohol-related deaths near the UC Berkeley campus in recent years, Berkeley officials approved new rules Tuesday night to address rowdy parties and other problems associated with group housing widely used by students.

About 15 Cal students, including representatives from governance group the Associated Students of the University of California, asked the Berkeley City Council to amend or vote down the proposal. They said it unfairly targets students, could lead to more evictions, and was unnecessary because they can regulate themselves.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage about drinking at Cal.

Miranda Hernandez, director of Greek affairs for an ASUC senator, told council the new rules would inappropriately micromanage students in their bedrooms, and would put students “at greater risk” because they would no longer want to call police and fire services for help, for “fear that they will be labeled a public nuisance.” She said there could be fewer reports and more deaths “because we will be afraid to call.”

About as many older Southside neighbors — some of whom described themselves as “year-round residents” — pleaded with council to adopt the new rules, citing frequent issues with noise, trash, loud music and the heavy use of the city’s first responders who are called to address those problems.

“Our community pays the price night after night, week after week, endangering our citizens and using precious public safety resources,” longtime resident Phil Bokovoy told council. “There is no will for the university to solve the problem.”

In September, authorities reported record numbers of arrests and tickets associated with drinking in the Southside neighborhood during an annual enforcement effort focused on UC Berkeley. The fire department averages seven calls for service to the neighborhood each weekend, resulting in four or five emergency room transports, staff said.

More than 25 people, with a relatively even split between UC Berkeley students and older residents, testified Tuesday night. Photo: Emilie Raguso
More than 25 people, with a relatively even split between UC Berkeley students and older residents, testified Tuesday night. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Apoorve Agarwal. Photo: Apoorve Agarwal/Facebook
Apoorve Agarwal died last year after falling down a staircase while intoxicated outside his Southside home. He was 20.

And Berkeley Fire Chief Gil Dong told council that, in 2014 and 2015, paramedics transported 1,500 students for medical calls. Forty-one percent of those calls, more than 600 of them, involved alcohol. Dong said about half of the intoxicated students were under 21, including 20% who were not yet 18.

Councilwoman Linda Maio called those “pretty extraordinary numbers” and made a motion to approve the new rules brought forward by city staff.

The new rules — which are focused on mini-dorms and housing such as fraternities, sororities and cooperatives, which the city has dubbed “group living accommodations” — would require a “responsible resident” to keep the property tidy, respond to concerns raised by neighbors, and keep a complaint log, among other duties. Annual notices to neighbors within 300 feet would be required to make sure the identity and contact info for the responsible resident is known. Adjacent neighbors would receive 48 hours notice before parties. The city says parties should “generally be limited” to fewer than 200 people.

Regarding drinking: No alcohol would be allowed in bedrooms of those under 21, in common areas where it would be “accessible to persons under the age of 21,” and — in case there was any confusion — “may not be served to any person under the age of 21 years.”

Various exemptions have been created but, generally speaking, group housing with more than 15 residents, and property owners with more than one mini-dorm, would need to comply. Rules about “entertainment events,” e.g. parties, cover events with more than 50 people other than the property’s residents, and include amplified music and the service of alcohol.

The city notes that proposed “closing” times for events (with “10 or more non-residents with alcohol present”) are “no longer binding,” but that music must cease at 10 p.m. weeknights and 1 a.m. weekends.

The city has also said group housing and mini-dorm residents are allowed to create their own equivalent protocols that could be approved by the city in lieu of the new ordinance. Noncompliance with the new rules, or their equivalents, could result in a property being deemed a nuisance, which could trigger an abatement process with the city and also allow for private lawsuits to be filed.

Councilman Laurie Capitelli asked why the city had decided to focus on mini-dorms and so-called group living accommodations, and said it would be more fair if the rules applied to all Berkeley residents.

City attorney Zach Cowan said the ordinance “evolved because of what was experienced in certain kinds of housing.” He said the city would “prefer not to be involved with enforcement at all,” because it is labor-intensive and cumbersome, and involves repeated violations and notices from the city about those violations. He said only the worst offenders would be at risk for designation as a nuisance.

“You gotta try to get there as a house,” Cowan told council.

Officials said they do not want landlords to use the ordinance as a weapon for unfair evictions, and agreed to adjust language related to sexual assaults in response to a suggestion from a speaker who has worked nationally to bring attention to the problem of campus-related rape.

Councilman Kriss Worthington, who represents the student district south of campus, was the lone dissenting vote on the ordinance. (Councilman Max Anderson was absent due to illness.)

Worthington said he could not, in particular, support part of the law that allows the city to remove bedrooms from mini-dorms as part of the enforcement process, because that would penalize future students who have not even moved to Berkeley by reducing the city’s housing stock.

“If there’s a bad actor, the bad actor should be the person who’s punished,” he said.

Councilwoman Lori Droste noted that the city already has the right to remove bedrooms under the existing ordinance. Droste thanked city staff for intensive efforts to engage stakeholders — 46 meetings overall — to collect feedback about how to tackle the issue. But she said, in the end, there’s only so much the city can do.

“The university really must provide housing for its students,” she said. “That’s just the big elephant in the room.”

See the PowerPoint presentation from Tuesday night.

Alcohol, fall from height likely contributed to Berkeley fraternity death (12.21.15)
Young man found dead at Berkeley fraternity (12.19.15)
Berkeley police respond to huge Southside riot (11.01.15)
Alcohol at Cal: Authorities report record arrests, tickets (09.10.15)
Berkeley neighbors take on ‘noisy and drunken parties’ (05.05.15)
UC Berkeley student ID’d as Southside fatality, died from head trauma (12.22.14)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...