What is it that we have a civic duty to keep, that has its own justices and corps, that boasts its own individual hand sign, and that, finally, in the end, we are said to rest in?
The answer, of course, is "Peace" or "The Peace."
The California Penal Code, section 415.2, states that it is illegal to maliciously and willfully disturb another person by loud and unreasonable noise. Any perpetrator found guilty of such a disturbance can be imprisoned for up to 90 days and/or face a fine of up to $400.
If you violate section 415.2, then you are said to be "disturbing the peace."
Pacific Beach compresses roughly 10,000 people into its five square miles. It's a tight community, with many sober families and older residents living alongside a large contingent of college-age drinkers and partiers. There is also an inordinate emphasis on nightlife, with a strip of hopping bars and flashy clubs up and down Garnet Avenue. Not to mention the high proportion of renters to owners: 70 percent of the residents in P.B. never put down roots there, renting on short-term leases or even on a month-to-month basis.
When you look at it this way, P.B. has all the makings for some detrimental neighborly friction.
Stephanie (whose full name is withheld to protect her privacy) is a stay-at-home mother of two young children. Her husband works for the city and wakes up early. She's a terrific storyteller, with a quick wit and a visual way of speaking. And she and her family reside far away from the bars and clubs but right next door to what turned out to be a raucous pit of late-night vice and depravity.
"At first it was sporadic," she said. "It was, like, for two years, the same group of people, and it bothered us, but it was every once in a while. Then, this past summer, it went on every single weekend, starting at 2:30, after the bars closed, and they'd get, like, 20 people out on their deck, hootin' and hollerin' and playing music until 5:30. They weren't very approachable, and they obviously didn't care about the people around them. I mean, this part of the neighborhood is like an echo chamber. Your neighbors might as well be right in your living room with you."
Stephanie cites a conflict of interest between short-termers and long-termers and between married couples and single partiers. "The guys who live in that house are the same age as my husband and me," she said. "They just never grew up."
Demographic reports for Pacific Beach state that over 72 percent of the people who live there are not currently married. And almost a quarter of P.B.'s inhabitants are in college at least part-time. The routines and behaviors of all these nonmarried recreational collegians must seem a little crazy to the married minority and professional majority.
At first, Stephanie and her husband subscribed to the doctrine of "live and let live."
"My husband and I are believers that everybody can do what they want," she said. "But when it starts to affect my family, the way we sleep, and when their lifestyle starts to ruin ours, well, then, that's enough!"
Even though the partying had gotten progressively worse, Stephanie and her husband didn't really know what they could do about it; for one thing, they thought they were the only ones being bothered.
But one afternoon, they saw a mutual neighbor approach and begin arguing with the partying bunch. Stephanie and her husband didn't think it would have much of an effect. Then another neighbor spoke to them about the problem house. Turns out there was something they could do about it.
San Diego's Community Assisted Party Program (CAPP) is designed to build a partnership between the neighborhoods and the police. The program's official flyer states that the purpose is not "to discourage parties, but rather to encourage party hosts to be responsible and considerate of their neighbors."
Over the years, the traditional patrol response to large parties has been to issue a "first-response notice" while shutting the party down. This approach was apparently effective on a short-term basis, but it did not address the problem of numerous repeat parties at one location. I have one group of friends who illustrated evidence of this: one wall of their apartment was literally papered with stapled-up first-response notices. That was proof that they were brazen partiers, downing beer and whooping late hours in the face of danger.
A first-response notice is pretty ambiguous. It's a narrow piece of paper (produced in the obligatory white/pink/yellow triplicate format) with the words "Public Service Fee" at the top and about three paragraphs' worth of explanation and official-sounding gobbledygook at the bottom. Among other things, this notice states that "a second response by the police to this location will result in an assessment of a 'POLICE SERVICE FEE.' " In other words, don't do it again, or else.
But before the party program was put into effect four years ago, no law could provide the bite behind this first-response bark. Another acquaintance once told me that his fellow renters at their gated P.B. apartment complex would pass around blame for their late-night goings-on. The police would show up and ask whose party it was, and each time they would point to a different apartment. That way, they got plenty of lag time between responses for one particular address, and the police couldn't pinpoint the source of the disturbances. What's the rest of the community supposed to do in the presence of people who are so resourcefully selfish?
Stephanie and her other neighbors finally contacted the local police and heard about the CAPP program, and soon enough, their restless nights were history. The party days of their neighbors, at least in this location, are basically over.
"It took about a month," she said. "And now I guess they've been 'CAPPed' for three weeks or so. Not a peep! We're finally sleeping every single night, with nothing to complain about. I mean, life's too short to complain, but when you can't sleep, you do talk about it the next day."
There are three ways that a particular address can come under the program. One route is to violate the conditions of the first-response notice, which means eliciting a second police response again the same night or again within 31 days of the first-response issuance. A second method is to serve alcohol to underage people at a party. If the police discover an underage drinker at a party they have been called to disperse, they will tag the house immediately. And the third way is through the citizens' response. This takes the consensual agreement of five or more surrounding neighbors who subsequently sign a petition of citizen's arrest.
Police community-relations officer Scott Morrison reports that, in general, the program is a resounding success. "Ever since we instituted the program, we've seen great numbers indicating that it's having exactly the effect that we wanted. Now officers can be out there for the more important stuff -- the burglaries and thefts, instead of responding to loud parties."
Morrison reports that there are currently 99 houses in the program in San Diego. Eighty-eight houses have passed through the program in the four years since it began. There have been 9 arrests in 3 houses, all 9 of whom went to jail; 81 of the 99 houses in the program are in Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, where the problem is most acute; 67 evictions or move-outs have come as a result of the program as well.
"We went from getting hundreds of calls per month -- say, 350 in the July before we started the program -- down to 180 the following July, down to about 80 last July," said Officer Morrison. "We've knocked down radio calls by over 300 percent. This is a savings of considerable resources for the city."
Morrison estimates that the average cost for a first-response call at a large party could be as much as $150 to $200, for four officers in two squad cars to take an hour out of their nights and break up a noisy gathering. That means the program saved taxpayers $40,000 to $50,000 in this past July alone.
Not to mention that many of us are sleeping a whole lot better.