The city of Fullerton scored a decisive victory Monday in its struggle to tame unruly fraternities when an Orange County Superior Court judge upheld an ordinance requiring that all fraternity and sorority houses obtain special operating permits from the city.
Three Cal State Fullerton fraternities challenged the ordinance, contending that it was unconstitutional because it restricted their rights to assemble and to privacy, among others. However, Judge Betty Lou Lamoreaux disagreed, ruling that the city acted reasonably in trying to protect a neighborhood from loud parties, litter and other problems stemming from the fraternity houses.
"The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that these fraternities are a public nuisance," Lamoreaux said in her decision and ordered the fraternities to seek a permit within 60 days or close down.
The ruling, which was issued at Harbor court in Newport Beach, came as a disappointment to fraternity members, who contend that their groups have been unfairly held accountable for rowdiness on the part of other college students.
"The university was built in this neighborhood and so there will always be students around here," said Eric Gustafson, 23, past president of Sigma Pi, one of the fraternities involved in the legal dispute. "A lot of (students) live in apartments around here, but because we have the logo on the house we get blamed for all of them."
Ron Talmo, lawyer for the fraternities, said he would be meeting with his clients to discuss whether to appeal the decision.
Fullerton officials were pleased by Lamoreaux's decision.
"To have our conditional use permit ordinance upheld is an important decision for the Fullerton community," Mayor Molly McClanahan said in a written statement. "Now we can get on with all fraternities taking responsibilities for their action and bringing their houses up to code."
The legal flap started in 1986, when Fullerton added fraternities and sororities to the list of those required to seek a conditional use permit that states various rules under which houses can remain open. City officials also cited several fraternities for building code violations.
The actions followed a decade of complaints from residents of an apartment-dominated neighborhood north of the campus that is home to seven fraternity houses.
By the Jan. 1, 1988, deadline for applying for such a permit, all but three fraternities had complied: Sigma Pi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Tau Kappa Epsilon. The university's five other fraternities and six sororities were granted permits.
Under the permit, the city can impose certain rules upon a fraternity or sorority, such as how many people could gather at one house or where members should park. The fraternity members who fought the permit requirement maintained that these conditions amounted to constitutional violations.
Not Considered Family
Talmo also argued that the fraternities were like families and therefore should be exempt from the ordinance. But Judge Lamoreaux ruled that Fullerton's ordinance "in no way prevents plaintiffs from associating with each other" and said that previous court cases have established that fraternity members do not constitute a family.
Lamoreaux concluded by writing that she sees no reason a fraternity cannot remain in the neighborhood as long as the group is willing to "keep noise at a reasonable level, avoid loud music after 10 p.m., police contacts, illegal parking, large group activities, litter, trash, blocking of streets and trespassing on private property of the neighbors in the vicinity."
Sigma Alpha Epsilon president Craig Holdener doesn't see it that way.
"It's not a matter of partying and drinking; it's an abridgment of our rights," said Holdener, 22. "They make us park two blocks away. . . . We're residents of this neighborhood, and we should be able to park here like anybody else."