Councilors unconvinced 'broad' regulations necessary

A new city ordinance aimed at curbing underage drinking and out-of-control house parties in Lake Oswego appears to have flagging support from city council.

The “unruly party” ordinance was introduced Jan. 7 and met with council criticism that it was too broad, specifically in defining a potentially disruptive house party as consisting of five or more people. The draft ordinance has since been revised to define a gathering as consisting of at least 20 attendees.

For a citation, two or more incidents from a list of about 10 criminal behaviors must occur.

Tuesday evening before the council, Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson emphasized the main target was underage partygoers.

“I can’t ever recall having (responded to complaints about) a party with adults that met this criteria,” Johnson said.

Many councilors were incredulous that laws already on the books didn’t address the issue.

“There are no tools you have to address the host?” Councilor Jeff Gudman asked.

“Not unless we can prove they were furnishing the alcohol,” Johnson replied.

Police can cite minors for consuming alcohol, but Johnson said the ordinance would also give police greater power to crack down on parties where alcohol was readily available to underage drinkers. He said police currently have to observe a hand-to-hand transaction in order to charge anyone with furnishing alcohol to a minor.

Underage hosts who call for police assistance would be given an affirmative defense and not be held liable for organizing the party, Johnson said.

“It’s not just the owner, it’s the host,” he said. “It can be the 21-year-old daughter that’s hosting the party. The issue doesn’t necessarily go to the parents.”

He added that, in general, a parent would only be cited after repeated offenses on their property.

“It’s about sending the message it’s not OK to host these parties in Lake Oswego,” he said. “That’s the crux of this.”

Still, council members questioned the necessity of increased regulations.

“As a councilor, I got a lot of response from parents in the community,” Councilor Lauren Hughes said. “It was very much not supportive, to be quite honest, and was about this just going above and beyond what was necessary.”

“This is a really broad ordinance that I think doesn’t meet the stated intent,” she added. “We’re selling our parents short and selling a lot of our teenagers short, too.”

But Johnson argued that since the beginning of the year, Lake Oswego police had been called to such events on three occasions, including one where two underage girls were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, and another where an underage boy suffered drug-induced psychosis.

“The frequency tends to be increasing,” Johnson said.

Councilor Donna Jordan expressed concern over what she feared was a growing trend.

“I’m concerned because I keep feeling there is a denial that happens in a city like Lake Oswego about what’s happening with our young people,” Jordan said, adding, “It’s wonderful to think your child will do exactly what they’re supposed to and have the wherewithal within themselves to get out of there and to say no or to call you. But it doesn’t always happen. Wouldn’t you prefer to have something happen that protects your child from that event, if they happen to be there?”

Discussion stalled over the potential legal ramifications of altering a pre-existing ordinance to include language about citing hosts of raucous parties, as Councilor Karen Bowerman suggested.

Mayor Kent Studebaker ultimately moved to table the discussion.

“We’ve got a problem — we’ve got a problem with alcohol, we’ve got a problem with drugs,” he said. “If it isn’t this ordinance, we’ve got to do something else.”

WEB sale still possible

Sale of the city’s West End Building fell through, but another buyer is still waiting in the wings.

In October, the Lake Oswego City Council agreed to sell the 14-acre property to San Francisco-based Kensington Investment Group for $16.5 million, far below the $20 million the city paid for it in 2006. The sale was contingent on the city’s ability to rezone the area for general commercial use. But on March 6, Kensington terminated its purchase and sale agreement.

Nick Bunick, of Lake Oswego, who was instrumental in developing the Westlake area, has renewed what was previously a counter offer to Kensington’s, now proposing to purchase the property and an additional 3-acre, open-space parcel for $20 million. Bunick says he intends to establish headquarters for his nonprofit organization, The Great Tomorrow.

Redevelopment director Brant Williams suggested the council consider Bunick’s offer while also initiating a vetting process to find a commercial real estate broker to represent the property should a deal with Bunick fall through.

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