Photograph by Curtis Cartier
PARTY PALACE: Ye shall know it by its fine décor and good housekeeping.
Houses of the Holy Moly
Who lives in Santa Cruz's 'loud and unruly' party houses?
By Curtis Cartier
AT FIRST GLANCE, Kasey Peck has it made. An undeclared freshman, he lives a block from UCSC with five other guys in a big ranch-style house on the upper Westside. Five young ladies in an almost identical situation live right next door. The only problem: he and the girls next door live in homes that have been flagged by the Santa Cruz Police Department as "loud and unruly" party houses. The designation stems from at least one wild night apiece that most likely involved lots of people, lots of ruckus and eventually lots of police, one of whom it is certain wrote a doozey of a ticket, not just for breaking the city's noise ordinance but for throwing a legally defined "loud and unruly gathering."
Now, if Peck, his roommates, his neighbors or anyone else who moves in for a year after the original violation throws another rager where Johnny Law shows up, they'll wake up not only with a hangover but with a fine of up to $1,000, and later a bill for the time for every officer who showed up and every record clerk who filed the paperwork. Peck says he gets the point.
"We know we can't have parties here," says the young man as he walks out of his tree-shaded front door, skateboard in hand. "I think we're actually very courteous. Plus, this house is a block from campus. What do you expect?"
Of the department's list of 82 offending homes that have been posted on the SCPD website since last month, police spokesman Zach Friend picks three addresses as the most egregious violators of the loud and unruly law. Those houses are: 161 Archer Drive, 167 Archer Drive and 64 Alta Vista Drive. Neighbors of the homes tell very different tales—some of sleepless nights and urine-soaked lawns, others of a few small gatherings they wish they'd been invited to. Meanwhile, at least two house-party-hopping Slugs say the list still misses a few of the most notorious party pads.
"The big party spots? Well, one's on West Cliff, there's a couple on Escalona, a couple on King Street, one on Moore Street and quite a few on Western Drive. There's also one on Wavecrest that started getting the cops called a lot," says Nickolas Linardos, a senior economics and health sciences major who says he's spent the last four years partying at houses all around Santa Cruz. "The biggest ones I've been to are about 150 people. And nothing too crazy ever happens. Usually just a lot of people kicking back with a few beers and some weed."
Under California law, landlords cannot discriminate against students. It's a fact Constantin Gehriger, the owner of 167 Archer, is quick to note when asked if renting to students is worth the trouble of dealing with parties. It's a perhaps surprising sentiment, given that Gehriger, along with 161 Archer landlord Thomas Foster, were successfully sued by Santa Cruz Neighbors, the same Archer Drive group that pushed SCPD to publish the loud and unruly house list. The lawsuit came after neighbors say they were forced to install doubled-paned windows to keep out the mayhem. Gehriger says he's now working with the UCSC Good Neighbor Initiative, a student-run city outreach group, to better educate his tenants on how to avoid being driven forth by bleary-eyed, pitchfork-wielding townsfolk.
"[The neighbors] have been very upset about the behavior of the tenants; we as owners are very much aware of it," he says. "We have a written rental agreement with them and we stress the point they must be considerate of the neighborhood. We expressly disallow parties."
Deborah Elston, president of Santa Cruz Neighbors, says her beef is with landlords that don't screen and manage their tenants effectively rather than with the students themselves. She's been a vocal critic of Gehriger and Foster, saying they overcharge the students and don't monitor them.
"The cork popper for me was MLK weekend," she says. "I was up all night with the parties, and I had gotten seven emails by Monday morning from people who were up at 2:30. I hope that flagging the house will help the landlord understand that he needs to manage the property better."
As might be expected, a particular neighbor's definition of "party" helps determine his or her idea of a "party house." At 64 Alta Vista Drive, for example, police say there have been an "extremely high" 47 calls for service since 2008, "overwhelmingly for loud parties," according to Friend. Michael Estioko, a neighbor whose front windows perfectly frame the notorious hillside hotspot, however, says the three Theta Chi frat bros inside are "pretty low-key most of the time."
"Sometimes they'll have a bunch of people over, but I've never seen anything too wild," he says. "Not like when I lived on Escalona—that street was way crazier."
House party veterans like Linardos and others like newly graduated history major Barbara Barton say the party scene in Santa Cruz would be laughed at by UCLA or UC–Santa Barbara students. And whether there's a public list of party foulers or not, there will always be plenty of bashes that cops the never know about.
"I don't think there's a central house party scene in Santa Cruz," says Barton. "There's groups that throw a lot of parties, like the frats and sororities. The lacrosse boys always throw a lot of parties, and the snowboarders do. There's always the rave scene out in the woods that goes till the wee hours of the morning. But really, it's mostly just kickbacks with friends. It's no UCLA."
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