Tuesday, September 05, 2006

CSNU Neighborhood Feud Has Long Memory

Neighbors feud with Greeks
By BRAD A. GREENBERG
Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES - The Greek system at California State University-Northridge was on the brink.
Police had been dispatched to disperse inebriated partygoers up to no good. Neighbors demanded the university designate on-campus housing for fraternities and sororities. Vilified students felt like pariahs.

''At this point, fraternities are doing everything with kid gloves,'' the president of the Interfraternity Council said. ''I've made it known that we have to be real careful. The Greek system feels it's hanging on for dear life.''

That was spring 1986. Twenty years later, tensions are again running high. Complaints about the fraternities have recently consumed hours of discussion at neighborhood council meetings, and the City Attorney's Office is pursuing cases to shut down some. Officials declined further comment.

With the fall quarter beginning today and fraternity rush week in tow, neighbors are bracing for raucous parties, while students are clinging to CSU-Northridge's unsanctioned college experience.

The Northridge East Neighborhood Council wants the college to take responsibility for its fraternities and sororities, particularly by creating a Greek Row, and to take the burden off families and elderly residents living near the Greek houses that dot Halsted Street, Zelzah Avenue and other suburban streets.

''We look at this as a defining moment for us,'' said council President Kelly Lord. ''Either CSUN has rules and they follow them, or they do not.''
The current spat is the latest on a long list of grievances between Northridge and the state college that put it on the map. Unchecked campus growth and unbridled traffic have long topped that list. But the Greek issue pops up like a gopher every few years.

''With these frat parties going on, some of them are getting to the point the neighbors can't even enjoy their weekends,'' said Steve Patel, who lives near the college. ''It's not just the adjacent homes. They end up parking throughout the streets, littering, making noise.''

Neighbors complain of loud music. Blinding party lights. Nude volleyball.

Well, that match actually was played a decade ago by the Sigma Chi guys, for what reason, no one seems to remember. But unhappy neighbors speak of the incident as if it were a semesterly event.

Students say locals have unrealistic expectations.

''They want to live next to a college and yet they want it to be like they live in a forest and there is no noise,'' said Justin Weisman, 25, who graduated in June and lives in one of the homes on Halsted.

The problem is the college never planned for Greek life. There was a push in the mid-1980s to designate 10-plus acres for fraternity and sorority houses, followed by a university offer to move the organizations into a residential tower on campus. But those never materialized.
''They have just unfortunately inherited a situation that is 30 years old,'' said Jamison Keller, the school's Panhellenic adviser.

Instead of fraternities and sororities living side by side in 20-room mini-mansions, much like they do at most major universities, Greek organizations rent one- and two-story homes around CSUN.

Because of years of neighbors complaining, CSUN's 11 Interfraternity Council fraternities and six sororities host most of their larger parties --- several hundred students --- at nearby bars and clubs. They use campus rooms for weekly meetings.

The residences inhabited by a handful of brothers exist as a home base, a place for informal Thursday night bashes. Other than a place for bros to throw back a few six packs, they say, the houses aren't socially used for much more.

''This is no longer Valley State College,'' said Los Angeles Councilman Greig Smith, who represents the Northridge district and has lobbied CSUN to establish a Greek Row. ''They are bringing in students from all over the state, from all over the world. And they need to evolve.''
The 48-year-old campus recently unveiled its growth plan. Called Envision 2035, it detailed goals to build 600 faculty and staff housing units, expand on-campus housing for 2,500 students and construct a $100 million performing arts center.
Left out was a Greek Row, which would cost millions to create.