The End of Block Party as We Know It
On Monday, Feb. 23 at 6 p.m., the Bloomsburg Town Council met to discuss the adoption of an ordinance that would amend Chapter 13, Part 4 of the Code of Ordinances of the Town of Bloomsburg Regulating Outdoor Social Gatherings.
The room was at maximum capacity: filled with 50 people. Of those people were Bloomsburg University students, members of campus Greek Life, residents of town, members of the town police, a representative from Bloomsburg University, landlords, and a town lawyer. This was, no doubt, a diverse group.
Members of Bloomsburg University Greek Life were not shy in voicing their opinions, giving suggestions and asking questions.
One member, Anace Ahmed, said that he understood one of the issues with Block Party is that it is a commercial event. “What if we just eliminated the commercial aspect of the event?” he asked, suggesting that they donate all proceeds to a charity and “Just held a fundraiser in [their] backyard.”
“Even if it’s not commercial, the ordinance would prohibit parties like this in residential districts,” town lawyer John Mihalik said, explaining that it would still be a zoning issue.
“So what would make it ok?” Ahmed asked.
“If the ordinance passes,” Mihalik said. “Nothing.”
This was an unsettling answer to all of the hopefuls in the room. Still, many were determined to fight for the case.
Mihalik explained that there needs to be a connection between the guests at the party and the hosts, like if the occasion were a family reunion or a wedding, or if the fraternity were hosting a party for themselves and invited dates. But he explained that this connection between host and guest is not something easily defined.
“If we provide a guest list, would it be alright?” Ahmed continued. “We’re trying to work something out… If we knew every single member in our event, you’re saying this would be ok?” Noting that there would not technically be an admission if it were a fundraiser and that people hold fundraisers all the time filled with people they don’t know.
Ahmed said they want to, “Give back to the town to kind of minimize the damage that has been occurring from block party. We’re not here to just argue.”
This is when Sandy Davis, Bloomsburg Mayor, brought up the issues that have ensued due to Block Party, including eight university students who died in fire due to excessive drinking at events like these. And as they’ve continued to grow, “We’re talking about parties of several thousand students.”
She listed off the numbers. Ninety-five citations and arrests in 2012. Eighty-five citations and arrests in 2013. And last year, 2014, 244 citations and arrests, “most of which were not Bloomsburg University students.”
That became the next issue: the fact that there is an estimated 6-8,000 outsiders who come to join in on the Block Party festivities, and that last year, it cost $50,000 in tax payer money.
“Block party is gonna stay. It’s not going to go away. There will still be people that come here looking for that party, even if that party doesn’t exist,” said Ahmed, pointing out the low percentage of arrests considering the amount of people who are actually present.
Another student, Joseph Divizio, said, “These controlled parties are keeping people in a fenced area with security guards where police are easily able to maintain them.” Divizio said that the thousands of other students scattered outside are the ones causing the damage. He said there’s no alcohol provided and people are “sobering up at these events.” By taking these kinds of events away, he said it will give police officers more students to look after.
One student, Steven Pask, asked for a correlation between the arrests and the parties with permits, “Because that’s what, it sounds like, is trying to be revoked.”
“It’s the overflow,” replied Davis, saying that people come and go from permitted parties.
“You guys really are just getting rid of the cages,” said Ahmed. “You are releasing the animals.”
The next council member to speak, Carey Howell, said that the university should allow their own students to have a party there. “If they can have tailgating up there, they can have another party.”
The first resident to speak out was Alex Dubil. He said his issue with block party is that he can’t sleep during the night or watch T.V. during the day. He wakes up to find nothing but broken bottles, condoms, and even some underwear outside. He said he saw a kid drop a bottle and just walk away. “Residents could care less about the permit parties, or not, they care about the garbage that they find in front of their house, and the glass.”
As students asked more questions about the police force, Sergeant Leonard Rogutski was up to speak, “I’m sure you have seen the YouTube videos, because we have.” The videos he’s referring to normally showcase hundreds of drunk students partying, drinking, and dancing. He said that many people packed together with alcohol, it is a “recipe for disaster.” Especially, when you have 2,000 people and a dozen officers, “We’re outnumbered.”
He took a survey of the room, asking who’s been at block party one, two, three, four, five years, and a number of hands were in the air. He continued counting, six, seven, eight, and all the way up to 20.
Only the two officers in the room still had their hands in the air. “There’s your experience,” he said. “I appreciate the fact that you’ve been there for three years, but collectively, we’ve been here for 30.”
There may not have been issues in the past years he said, but there have in the past 17 or 18 years. “You say you want it to be safe, well let me tell you, I want it to be safe too, because I’m the guy on the front line,” said Rogutski. He told the students that it’s not up to them to try to control it, it’s up to the law enforcement.
When accusations were made by some members that the university was not cooperating in the efforts to move forward with block party, Jim Hollister, Assistant Vice President of External Relations for the university, was ready to speak. “The university’s not sloughing this off,” he said, explaining the number of meetings he’s sat in this year discussing the potential options for block party. “This started in the 1970’s, and what we do is we continue to repeat the problems and we repeat the conversations.”
“You can’t just throw it up there on a bunch of athletic fields and say it’s gonna be a big party. It’s simply not legal. And we are going through all the steps we possibly can,” Hollister continued.
He discussed the issues that come along with block party, he said, “Guys, love ya. You’ve given me a job for the last 35 years, but you’re a problem. Block party is out of control, and my concern is for safety.”
What he said next was chilling: “I’ve been intimately involved with the eight deaths that the mayor talked about. Do you want to talk to a parent and tell them you’re dead? Your kid’s dead.”
“Don’t look at me and say I’m some stupid administrator who wants it to go away. I don’t… I personally think block party would be great if people would party civilly,” said Hollister. “And I’m not going to sit there and talk about the next dead student.”
Not much more could be said after a statement like that one.
William Kreisher, the only member of the town council to originally oppose the ordinance, asked the rest of the council, “Where would they be able to have a block party in Bloomsburg if this ordinance passes?”
The answers: upper campus and the fair grounds.
Now, it was time for the vote. In the end, Kreisher was the only member of the council who opposed the ordinance.
The motion carried.