NEWPORT BEACH — When it comes to partying, UC Irvine students can't compete with the Wildcats at the University of Arizona. But in Newport Beach, where many Anteaters live, police are trying to one-up the Tucson Police Department's efforts to prevent wild parties.
At a City Council study session Tuesday, police officials introduced an ordinance restricting "loud and unruly gatherings." The law, modeled after one in Tucson, would give city officials the ability to fine partygoers up to $8,000 for repeat violations — more than five times what Arizona's law provides.
In this heavily conservative city, police and some residents for years have tried to tame partiers, especially those who overtake West Newport on the Fourth of July. They say this law could give them a strong deterrent as they try to make parts of Newport Beach more "family friendly."
"We would like to see stricter enforcement and less second chances," said Councilman Steve Rosansky, who represents much of West Newport, before the meeting. "It's just a new attitude, just less tolerance."
Mayor Mike Henn was less nuanced: "We need to have the ability to have shock and awe."
Henn and four other council members gave their preliminary approval of the ordinance; it still has to be formally voted on. Council members Leslie Daigle and Ed Selich dissented.
The law would allow officers to issue citations to people who organize a party that gets out of hand, to the property owners, and to people attending who violate its guidelines. Officers would post a large red tag on the door of the house and notify its owner if they observe a party where people are urinating in public, are drunk in public, are excessively noisy, serve alcohol to minors or display other behaviors.
"Usually it's the partygoers who are causing the problem," said Lt. Bill Hartford before the meeting. Other city laws dealing with loud parties only hold accountable the property tenant or property owner, he said.
Some West Newport residents spoke at the meeting in favor of the law.
"This isn't the Vegas Strip. These are our homes. This is our neighborhood," said Lori Morris, 48, who said she sometimes hoses vomit off her patio.
Penalties would be up to $500 for the first violation, and up to $3,000 for the fourth violation, if it takes place within six months of the first. If a fourth violation happens on July 4, within a designated part of West Newport, it would be $8,000. The Arizona law has a $1,500 mandatory minimum fine for third and subsequent violations.
Those fines sounded excessive to Tommy Kochinas, 30, who was riding his beach cruiser Tuesday afternoon to his house on 33rd Street.
"I feel like it's really not fair if you're just at the party," he said.
Officers would focus on people who were making the most trouble, and not just anyone attending a party, Hartford said.
A state appellate judge in New Mexico ruled in 2005 that a similar city ordinance was overly vague, and someone may not know a party has become "unruly," but still could be cited. He found that the law was unconstitutional.
While the law would apply to the entire city, West Newport has traditionally been a haven for the city's party crowd, especially on July 4 when police arrest dozens of drunks. One part of that neighborhood is even referred to as the "war zone" for its perceived debauchery.
Daigle and Selich said they thought the law should just target problem areas of the city.
Other council members said they were concerned about protecting landlords, but police officials said they would be forgiving if property owners demonstrated that they took action to keep their tenants under control.
Police in Tucson began to use their law more frequently after two people were killed during a 2003 party. Since then, university officials have disciplined students who are caught partying at a "red-tagged" house off campus.
While West Newport has a reputation as party central, Rosansky and other leaders have tried to change that. They convened a taskforce to tame July 4 revelry, and the red tag idea came out of one of its meetings.
"Our goal here is to be a little more proactive," he said. "So when Fourth of July rolls around, they will already understand that that behavior is not acceptable."
Times have certainly changed since the late 1920s, when Southern Californians flocked to the Peninsula for the annual Bal Week, a raucous spring break celebration that lasted into the 1960s. While there is still a healthy contingent of summer renters, many families live there as well.
"The character, in a certain sense, has changed," Rosansky said.