Keep it down over there!

Observer takes a look at five years' worth of noise violations.

Photo+illustration+by+Jack+Lambert.+
Photo illustration by Jack Lambert.

Photo illustration by Jack Lambert.

Photo illustration by Jack Lambert.

Simone Corbett, For the Observer

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It’s 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night at the start of fall quarter. What better way to welcome in a new school year than with a house party, right?

Wrong.

If you’re not careful, you could easily find yourself being fined up to $2,000.

Nearly 400 noise violations have been given out to CWU students in the last five years. But either students are getting smarter or officers are becoming more lenient, because the number of violations has steadily declined over the past five years. In 2012, police records show that 84 citations were handed out to CWU students, but that dropped about 35 percent to 55 citations in 2016.

Still, at least 50 CWU students are cited with noise violations every year, with 44 percent of all citations in the last five years coming from the same neighborhoods surrounding campus.

Tyler Jones witnessed the cops shut down Resonate Church’s “welcome back” house party in one of these hot spots — three years in a row.

“We’re having this event where there’s no alcohol, we’re just providing something that people are gonna go to and hangout—still sort of a ‘party’ but without the drinking. And then the cops roll up without even warning us and hand us a fat ticket,” recalled Jones, who just graduated. “We weren’t even being reckless…It wasn’t like a bad event. We’re trying to provide a good thing here.”

Each time, they were charged $500.

“I think it’s crazy,” Jones said about the cost of the fine.

Many Central students share the same frustration. Perhaps that’s due to the hefty fee imposed on those violating the city’s noise ordinance, which operates on a three-tiered system. A resident’s first noise violation is $500, their second violation in the same calendar year jumpst to $1,000 and a third violation in the same year doubles again to $2,000 fine. Given the high fees, the number one complaint expressed by violators is that they didn’t receive a warning before being cited— a choice that is the officer’s.  

“The price, I don’t think is justifiable…compared to other schools,” said Tanis Stock, another recent grad who had his own run-ins with the Ellensburg police during his four years on campus. Stock explained that his house hasn’t always received warnings before being given a noise violation ticket.

“They’d never say that they can hear us but they’d see people coming in and out of our house,” Stock said. “But every time they’ve given us a warning, there’s been like 10 people in our house and most of the time it’s the people that live there and their significant others or close friends. It’s never when we have a [huge] group of people,” Stock says.

About the Ordinance 

The City of Ellensburg’s noise ordinance said that noise should not be heard from more than 50 feet away between the hours of 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

This basically means that a person standing out on the sidewalk should not be able to hear noise coming from inside your house after 10 p.m. However, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., the restriction on noise increases to 100 feet.

“Mowing the lawn—that’s a reasonable thing during the day and you’re gonna hear that lawnmower from a great distance. After 10 o’clock, it’s not reasonable to mow your lawn,” said Ellensburg Police Captain Dan Hansberry. “It’s not just music and voices, it’s really any kind of noise.”

However, loud music and voices past 10 p.m. are where over 50 percent of noise violations in the last five years have come from, the records show.

“Most noise violations are related to parties,” Hansberry said.

The city used to start fines for first offenses at $250, like most other Washington towns, but Hansberry said they saw too many repeat offenders.

Another spur to increase it was “Senior Golf.” The annual graduation bash—which started in the morning and involved students travelling to different house parties north of campus—got way out of hand in 2001.

“It was completely out of control—burning furniture in the street—almost like a mob mentality,” Hansberry recalled.

So the city doubled the fines, and now also requires that landlords are notified of the violation.

Nancy Lillquist, who’s been on the Ellensburg City Council for 16 years, defends the increase. “If you don’t learn your lesson on what that acceptable range of noise is, [consequences] can escalate,” Lillquist said.

Once a student receives a violation, they can plead their case in court and possibly get their fine cut in half. Another route is to avoid the potential of receiving a violation altogether by requesting a noise waiver from the city council to have noise exceeding the limits or the 10 p.m. quiet hours—something partygoers and party-throwers don’t often take advantage of.

“Once a year students will come in asking about permits for neighborhood parties,” Lillquist said.

But Hansberry noted that just because you turn in the application for a noise waiver, doesn’t mean you’ll receive it.

He said the noise waiver requests that tend to get declined are usually for parties with an end time of 2 a.m. in residential areas.

Hansberry believes the steady decline is due to a couple of factors.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate in the last couple of years to have a good wave of students come through. There just hasn’t been ‘a lot of knucklehead classes,’” he said.

Hansberry also credited the decline with Ellensburg’s police officers improving their communication with students.

College Culture 

        Many students don’t like the 10 p.m. start time and the fact that warnings aren’t mandatory.

“I feel like Ellensburg doesn’t really embrace the fact that it is a college town,” said Jones, who thinks they should kick in later, especially on weekends. “Coming from [the University of Idaho] and they have a Greek row, it was 4 p.m. and music could be heard from probably a mile away. Everyone’s outside partying,” he said. “I feel like Central is overbearing. Students are gonna do that [party] regardless.”

Another recent grad, Sharlyn Lyman, said she understands the 10 p.m. restriction, but wishes officers were first required to give warnings.

“I feel like we should always get a warning first, before getting a noise vio,” Lyman said. Lyman and her roommates weren’t familiar with the city’s policies until she received a violation due to a house party she had last fall.

“There were two cops, they were both really nice. They both just told me that people in the garage were yelling really loud and the music was really loud, and they could hear [from] 700 feet or a really long ways down the road from our house,” Lyman recalled. “They offered to help get everyone out of our house and stayed outside until probably half the people left.”

She recalled feeling emotional and scared, but she got the fine reduced to $250 instead of $500 by a Kittitas County judge, and their landlord never got involved.

CWU senior Alex Horning was a fellow partygoer in a similar situation.

“I was hanging out with some friends, it was supposed to just be a kickback—two guys, two girls playing some beer pong,” Horning said. He explained that his group of friends were planning on leaving to go to a party until they heard it got shut down. So his friends decided to let the party come to his friend’s place instead. “Within the next 45 minutes, that house went from four people to about 60. The entire house was packed—people spilling out into the backyard, people going into the front yard. [Within] two hours, cops showed up. At the end of the night the guys ended up with a ticket and were really upset.”

Like many students in town, Stock’s greatest frustration about noise violations seemed to come from Ellensburg’s price compared to the college towns of Cheney, Pullman and Bellingham.

“I can understand where they’re coming from because there are families and people who actually wanna sleep who live around us,” he said. “But I don’t think for the [parties] we’ve gotten noise vios for were necessary.”   

Police Misconceptions 

Ellensburg Police want to assure students they aren’t actively patrolling for noise violations.

“Officers do not enjoy going to these house parties because we deal with a lot of highly intoxicated people,” Hansberry explained. “They [officers] would rather be out doing other police work.”

        Lillquist said students should understand that noise violations are given out on a complaint basis.

“If you don’t bother your neighbors, it’s okay,” she says. Lillquist explains if you happen to live in a neighborhood where the standard and the tolerance for noise is higher, you may be less likely to get a violation.

        Although students often complain about the high fines, and even occasionally come before the city council with petitions, there has still not been a strong enough push from the overall community to lessen the fees, Lillquist said.

        “It is kind of a perpetual conflict between young people and their neighbors in neighborhoods where there’s families and older people,” she said. “In the past there were citizens coming before the council saying there’s noise that’s not being dealt with, there needs to be a change, and that’s when we did the progressive fees… If they’re [Ellensburg community] not pushing us to change things, we’re not gonna touch it.”

The above chart displays all addresses with more than three violations over the course of five years. This shows where the top party houses tend to be each year.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Keep it down over there!”

  1. Tina Bunt on November 15th, 2017 3:12 pm

    This is ridiculous! 10pm on weekends?? Really? Since 2001 barely any trouble! Sure your not trying to make money off these kids supporting the whole damn community?? 500.00 no warning if your heard from a sidewalk? You say your not but I’m not so sure? What is this? Highschol? These are young adults trying to enjoy the college life and you acting like its WSU or something? Cut these kids a break.. as far as I can see they’ve been damn good to you and the community and to thrive in college is to be well rounded not stifled by council Lillquist who appears to have had a boring college experiance or you would know bettrer! Cut the bullshit-this is strongly based on money otherwise if it’s not it’s utterly riduiculous… if your going to buy a house by a college and you are older or have younger kids then maybe think twice before your purchase!ibut, even by the sounds of it these kids are very respectful….ts a college based town! without the kids how will you all survive there?
    No reason for you Lillquist to brand these kids as though they are bad and your trying to keep them in line? when they haven’t done a damn thing wrong! Just trying to have a good college experience and instead of kids saying “no” don’t go there it Sucks wouldn’t you rather them say “yes” I had a great experience! It was an all around good experience! This isn’t Highschool-this is real life college experiences and you just seem so proud of yourself in the article with your down right ridiculous stance on 10pm curfew! You should be ashamed of yourself! We have a great kid who if he is out past 10…he’s not doing a damn thing wrong he’s just hanging with his buddies trying to enjoy college life…even the kids having a church party with NO DRINKING OR DRUGS CANT EVEN HAVE SOME FUN! way to suck the fun out of it. Good for you I’m sure your proud! Let’s see 2001…. 16 years ago! It’s time for change… the way you speak is very sad to me and other parents …as though your dealing with bad kids in Compton, but in reality these kids are great kids and all your doing is stifling them, which appears as though that’s your MO! Very sad….these are good kids! Not to mention IT COSTS ALOT IF MONEY TO GO THERE BY THE WAY! TAGGING THEM WITH EVEN MORE FEES with no warning BECAUSE THERE WERE 6 of them talking to loud at the dinner table? COMPLAINT BASED? Are you sure? And Hansberry don’t use the term knuckleheads in reference to kids! These are human beings and I wonder what adjective people refer to you as? ..sorry you have to deal with a few kids who maybe don’t follow the rules, but again we. Have good kids trying to make their way…

    Time to sit down and listen! These are good kids! 10pm on weekdays is very respectful and reasonable but weekends? Really?

    [Reply]

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