A citywide effort to ease livability problems in neighborhoods near the Oregon State University campus appears to be bearing fruit.
Corvallis Police Department reports analyzed by the Gazette-Times show significant decreases in quality-of-life violations in the past year (see chart).
The Gazette-Times compared reports from September, October and November 2012 with the same three months in 2013.
The newspaper found that disturbances, fights and loud parties all have declined markedly. Instances of loud music, hosting a party for minors and minor in possession of alcohol also have been reduced, though not at such a high rate.
Also declining is the issuance of special response notices, or SRNs, for quality-of-life violations.
What has changed? Plenty, according to law enforcement, university officials, neighborhood leaders and Corvallis residents.
• The Corvallis City Council has increased the fines for alcohol violations such as minor in possession, furnishing alcohol to minors and hosting a party for minors while adding new teeth to the SRN program.
Previously, residents who received a special response notice would be billed if a second infraction happened within 30 days. Residents would be on the hook for officer time, vehicle use and administrative time.
The new rule allows the city to charge retroactively for the first SRN. Crime reports during the three-month periods analyzed by the Gazette-Times show SRN1s are down from 167 to 130 year over year, with SRN2s down from 13 to three.
• OSU is requiring freshmen to live on campus and has added more resources to its student conduct and Greek life offices.
• Property managers and landlords have stepped up with more concerted enforcement of rules regarding tenant behavior and greater cooperation on education and outreach.
“It is clear that behavior changes when all of the adults — neighbors, landlords and police — are on the same page and say ‘No,’ firmly and clearly,” said Charlyn Ellis, who lives in the Chintimini Park area.
Ellis also was a member of the neighborhood livability workgroup of the Collaboration Corvallis project, which has been working to resolve issues related to OSU enrollment growth.
Many of the initiatives that have been put in place stem from recommendations developed by the livability group.
A Gazette-Times reporter who toured near-campus neighborhoods in October of 2012 and again last October noticed a decline in loud parties and noise, which the crime reports also show.
Some neighbors, however, think that additional security measures by landlords are simply moving the parties and noise elsewhere.
And it should be noted that not all quality-of-life violations in the crime reports involve OSU students or near-campus neighborhoods.
“I’m pleased with the results so far,” said Corvallis Police Chief Jon Sassaman (see information box with this story for Sassaman’s list of 11 key changes).
“We anticipated a small degree of success based on the work and publicity these efforts have generated. The current data tells us the structural changes to the ordinances, the enhanced relationship between the city, OSU, the students, the neighborhoods and the property managers/owners is having a positive effect.”
Property managers have been particularly visible during the campaign.
A group led by veteran Corvallis manager Jerry Duerksen of Duerksen Associates has been meeting monthly since March. The group has invited police, firefighters, city housing specialists and OSU officials to discuss problems and work on solutions.
Chris Saltveit of Preferred Properties Northwest, who manages 156 rental units in Corvallis, has hired Knight Vision Security to patrol his properties.
Saltveit said he has “received lots of positive feedback for hiring Knight Vision for help in keeping the student activities under control.”
Neighbors north of the campus say they see the distinctive black Knight Vision SUVs on patrol as often as they see police cruisers.
Knight Vision President Fred Edwards said he is close to signing up another prominent property manager and that he hopes to up his fleet from two vehicles to six.
A city property maintenance code advisory group, which includes property managers Duerksen, Kari King and Amy Harding as well as city housing officials, finished a cycle of seven public meetings Dec. 17.
City staffers hope to compile a program for the City Council to consider sometime early next year.
Duerksen also has hired a fully licensed, bonded and insured general contractor full time “to help monitor the condition of our units.”
Duerksen said that the education process involving property managers, OSU and the police “should have a large impact ... and bring the quality of life throughout the neighborhoods up.”
Not everyone is happy, however, and the battle is far from over.
Jo Tynon, who lives on Northwest 28th Street, left informational fliers on how to be a good neighbor on apartment doors at the beginning of fall term.
“Unfortunately, we will have to do this every year, with every new batch of undergraduate students,” Tynon said. “(But) I think the payoff is worth it.”
Residents who live near Seventh Street Station southeast of the campus and in the Central Park neighborhood say the noise has continued.
“I see little change in the number of noisy parties in the blocks adjacent to our house,” said Courtney Cloyd, president of the Central Park Neighborhood Association.
But the news isn’t all bad, Cloyd adds.
“In all but a couple of cases where I’ve talked to the party hosts, they have dealt directly with the noise and have thanked me for not calling (the police),” he said.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t host another party ... but they remember for a few days or a week.”
In the future, there will be more officers on the streets to handle calls from concerned neighbors such as Cloyd.
The local option property tax levy Corvallis voters passed in November will pay for the hiring of three new police officers as of July 1.
Once the new hires are trained, Chief Sassaman plans to assemble a force of “community livability officers.”
The group will “focus on capitalizing on the existing successes and enhancing them through partnerships, education and relationship-building as well as being able to surge toward events that cause the neighborhood disruptions,” Sassaman said.
“We envision positive movement, which includes a continued decrease in the calls for service, with improved quality of living in neighborhoods.”