Berkeley fraternity neighbor seeks to curb rowdy behavior
By Doug Oakley
During his time as a trauma nurse at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Berkeley resident Paul Ghysels said he often saw the halls of the emergency room lined with UC Berkeley students on the verge of drug and alcohol overdoses.
That's part of the reason why, after trying unsuccessfully for 10 years to work with the
university and the fraternities to tone down their partying and rowdy behavior, the Durant street resident decided to sue all 35 fraternities last year.
Now two of those fraternities have decided to settle the suit, but the remainder are fighting and Ghysels said they are still up to their college tricks. They continue to endanger themselves with their boozing and they continue to make his life hell, he said.
"I'm sick and tired of hearing parents say, 'why didn't someone do something' when their child is unconscious or dead and the city and the fraternities and the university have ignored the neighbors' pleas for help for 10 years," said Ghysels who has lived next to the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity for 22 years.
During a news conference Wednesday, Ghysels pointed to a mound of trash in the street in front of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house next to his home on Durant Street, the bullet holes in his home's windows and the two story "beer bongs," (a funnel with a hose attached for chugging beer) on display outside the Sigma Pi house on Warring Street, as examples of how UC Berkeley fraternities are out of control.
He said he has spent $68,000 on security equipment at his home. He once caught a drunk fraternity member inside his house and had him arrested, Ghysels said. But the student was not charged with any crimes and only urged by a judge to get voluntary alcohol counseling.
Grahame Hesp, director of fraternity and sorority life at UC Berkeley, said the school does recognize some of the fraternity members have acted recklessly, but it's not appropriate for Ghysels to sue all of them.
"We know that some fraternities have engaged in behaviors that have upset neighbors and the university has worked extensively over the last few years to ... address these issue and we continue to do so," Hesp said in an e-mail.
"The university continues to believe that it's troubling that the lawsuit targets dozens of fraternities."
Hesp said that the "majority" of fraternities on campus "are engaged in activities that build leadership skills, foster strong lifelong friendships and aid charitable organizations."
Ghysels is happy that two of the fraternities he sued in January have agreed to clean up their acts. His attorney Yolanda Huang said owners of the Alpha Gamma Omega fraternity on Haste Street and the Sigma Phi Epsilon house on Channing Way have come to the table.
Alpha Gamma Omega, a Christ-centered fraternity that officially bans alcohol at all of its houses, agreed to cut down on noise from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and clean up the trash around the house. In addition they agreed that "if they misbehave, they will get a house director," Huang said.
The fraternity's National President, John Seevers of Evergreen Colo., said it was easy for his young men to get in line. "Behaving is pretty easy for us to do considering our moral values based on biblical principals," Seevers said.
Huang said owners of the Sigma Phi Epsilon house, Stan Momtchev and Elena Kaloyanova of Berkeley, have agreed the fraternity will have no loud music, members will clean the property weekly and the owners will check on the property three times a week.
Ghysels said he and his wife don't want to move because her family has owned the house since 1919 and they are attached to it.