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Proposed ordinance targets alcohol-fueled gatherings for minors

Throwing raucous parties or owning property where they happen is about to get more expensive in Lake Oswego.

The city council this week considered a new ordinance prohibiting “unruly gatherings” and imposing penalties on the people who host them.

Lake Oswego Police Chief Don Johnson said officers respond to about a dozen out-of-control parties each year. They usually involve anywhere from 60 to 250 people, “typically kids,” he said.

“They seem to follow sporting events, and they seem to follow weather patterns,” Johnson said. The police department, which typically has three officers and one sergeant on duty late at night, might respond after receiving a handful of 911 calls from neighbors complaining about noise and fights. “These are things kids do when they drink alcohol.”Don Johnson

The problem isn’t limited to Lake Oswego. Officials developed the draft rules in response to a request from the Oregon Health Authority in Clackamas County, county drug abuse prevention group and county police chiefs association. Sandy has already passed a similar ordinance, he explained, and Oregon City and Estacada are considering versions too.

But though the ordinance stems from a countywide initiative, it also comes on the heels of a party bust last fall at a Knaus Road house rented to Lewis & Clark College students. At that gathering, 60 teens were cited for possessing alcohol, and an unconscious 17-year-old girl was rushed to the hospital.

That’s the sort of party the new rules intend to stop.

“It’s not the average party we respond to,” Johnson said. “It’s a party that’s out of control.”

While police can already cite carousing minors for consuming alcohol, the new ordinance cracks down on party hosts — and their parents or landlords — by making them responsible for the illegal behavior of their guests or tenants.

If cited for repeat unruly parties, property owners and hosts could be on the hook for city response costs, including the salaries and benefits of law enforcement and other emergency personnel, plus fines of up to $1,000.

Today, officers responding to unruly gatherings involving high school- or college-age youths typically confiscate alcohol, issue citations and disperse partygoers. But in most cases, Sgt. Tom Hamann said, they have a tough time proving an adult furnished alcohol to minors, because some parents simply deny knowing their children and children’s friends were drinking in the house. The new ordinance aims to address that issue while also dealing with problems wild parties cause for the greater community.

“Along with the drinking, this addresses people urinating in their neighbors’ yards, causing damage to fences and things like that,” Hamann said.

But city council members haven’t yet given a green light to the new rules.

During a public hearing Tuesday at city hall, some took issue with the proposed definition of “unruly gathering” and voiced concerns about the potential consequences for adult citizens who like to hold private social events.

According to the draft ordinance, a “gathering” is an event where at least five people come together and alcohol is served and consumed. It might be deemed “unruly” with the addition of at least two of about 10 offensive behaviors, including violations of state or city liquor laws, noise violations, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, public urination or defecation, offensive littering, assault, menacing or harassment.

“That list, with only having two of those, five people and alcoholic beverages, sure makes it seem like a lot of stuff would qualify as an unruly gathering,” Councilor Jon Gustafson said, noting that, based on the proposed definition, “I have a feeling I’ve probably hosted a few.”

Councilor Lauren Hughes agreed.

“I may also have hosted a few of these,” she said. “Joking aside, it is a very broad ordinance that could have some very significant unintended consequences in terms of impact on our citizens just for socializing. ... Also, the community most directly impacted, the school community, hasn’t been engaged in knowing this is going on.”

Councilor Donna Jordan said setting the bar at five people seemed too low.

The police chief noted the proposed rules offered some flexibility, ramping up penalties with repeat offenses.

“There’s a lot of forgiveness in this ordinance,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of chances for a host to change behavior over time.”

The five-person number deemed a “gathering” in the initial draft came from a similar ordinance in a different city. Lake Oswego’s proposed rules were modeled after a law in Eugene.

Eugene’s “social host” ordinance went into effect in April 2013. According to a recent article in the Oregon Daily Emerald newspaper, by October it had resulted in 11 citations — a small proportion of overall party-related citations in the town.

According to other news outlets, some students responded differently than expected to the rules by weighing the costs of concealing their gatherings against the potential fines — and deciding to hire private security teams to ensure their house parties were invisible from the sidewalk.

Resident Janine Dunphy testified against any new rules in Lake Oswego. She opposed the idea that citizens needed more education on the ordinance or the issues it aimed to address.

“If there are people living in this town that do not know it is not proper to serve alcohol to minors or that it is illegal to assault your neighbor or harass them, no amount of education is going to help,” Dunphy said. “I personally don’t believe we’re living in a community where that type of behavior is rampant.”

Johnson said he would return in about a month with a revised version of the proposed ordinance that would include a higher number of partiers in the definition of gathering. The council’s public hearing will be continued at that meeting.

Kara Hansen can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 107. Follow her on Twitter, {obj:2127}.

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