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Won't Somebody Think of Our Property Values????!!!

Children....I mean the Children. Won't Somebody think of the Children Is What We Meant.......

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, October 25, 2000.

Every year, the residents of the University Hill area get their shorts in a bunch and start to whine about the decline of their residential neighborhood. Led by merchants, the angry citizenry complains that their once lovely area is a dump, that they can't sleep at night because of the firecrackers, that they feel, gee, well, unsafe in their homes. And of course, the children. We all fear and are concerned for the children.

This was driven home to me last weekend, a day it rained, when a well-sealed lady ventured courageously into a place I worked and wanted me to rouse the inhabitants to clean up the neighborhood. I declined her request, pointing out that this was a Hostel, and that people had not traveled from Poland at some expense to clean up College Avenue in Boulder. She was huffy. I was unimpressed. "Oh," she said. "I guess it's the residents who make the place so messy." This was delivered with all the wrong emphases common to people who read about sarcasm and rarely notice it themselves and are utterly incapable of delivering it. Children imitating their parents, for example.

"Why, yes," I said."Exactly. It's the fraternities and sororities who leave the area fit for a pig farm." I smiled. I have a lovely smile. Generally, I'm sure. However, I caught myself smiling in a mirror as I said this and reflected how much I resembled the Grinch. Eh. The lady stormed out into the rain with her glad bag of beer cans and still-wrapped newspapers.

This is a common lament here on University Hill, where they continually decry the decay of their neighborhood. Well, guys, I've been here since 1971, and I can't recall when the Hill was ever a nice place. It was always a dump, full of crappy restaurants, bars, and cheap, flophouse housing. There were decayed houses reflecting a nice past of Ozzie and Harriet post-war snugness, but not for many years. In fact, I don't recall the Hill ever being as nice as it is now, depressing as that is.

The problem on the Hill is that it is, essentially, terrorized by the college kids, primarily fraternities and sororities. I speak as a former officer in a national fraternity. I know how this works, how college kids are quite sure they are the alpha omega of life (and they are, actually...), and how people in the real world seem unreal and in any case irrelevant to them. I know how alcohol works, especially in groups. I know, I know, I know. And I don't think the kids are bad, particularly. They just don't envision consequences for their actions. In Boulder, since there hardly are any consequences, that's easy.

The fraternities on the Hill often stay up all night shooting off fireworks, screaming obscenities, starting fights with each other or stray organizations, being generally obnoxious. They live like pigs, leaving garbage on their lawns, piling up crap in the driveways. The frat houses are surrounded by multiple occupant dwellings, most containing college kids and affiliates like drug dealers and deadbeats. These dwellings are even worse, with months of newspapers on the sidewalk, beer bottles on the porch, cars without mufflers on the lawn. Each year, some college kid gets killed in a car or skiing accident, a bunch of college kids get arrested for violent acts, a girl gets assaulted she thinks, and everybody staples their wrist to the forehead and bemoans the alleged tragedy. An entire day is dedicated to righting this karmic horror, which actually translates to about four hours of ambulatory effort, between 11 AM and 3 PM on a Sunday, as hung over college kids with lots of press coverage clean up the neighborhood. This effort of what should be a daily enterprise is supposed to indicate the responsibility and concern the college kids feel for their 'community.' Everyone applauds this obvious absurdity, and within a week the unread Daily Cameras are again impeding the progress of Daddy's SUV across the neighborhood lawns. Every year.

Of course, the fault here are the local property owners who want to corral every stray out-of-state dollar from the drunks provided, somehow, their worst activity is an off key rendition of the Wiffenpoof Song on Saturday. Prices for habitation are so high - odd, isn't it? This is supposed to be a trashed neighborhood... - that college kids can't afford to live here without jamming a zillion bodies into each house. The landlords, sweethearts all, don't want to provide garbage service or to offend their tenants unnecessarily so they simply shine on the crap accumulating in the driveways and lawns.

And each year they whine about the neighborhood, joined by the yuppies who had hoped to cash in when they bought the decaying local houses and fixed them up. Won't anybody think of their investment? I mean their children? If anybody wanted to clean up the Hill, the process is simple if somewhat prolonged. Fix video cameras, file civil suits against the landlords of the buildings with chronic problems and force them to regulate their tenants or throw them out. Insist the police enforce the law and stand behind them to make arrests when you call them to complain, rather than say "just make it stop, I want to sleep." The landlords, however, are the people both howling and financially culpable. What to do?

Well, I've been convinced for years that most universities can be hammered under the RICO act. They continually house felonious individuals, they house people making false ID's, they house underage drinking and drugs. They are vulnerable. Many universities, like CU, are simply gouge operations that do not provide actual, much less acceptable housing for their freshmen, and flunk out the necessary number after their checks have cleared but before the kids have settled in. Ever come from high school, away from parental supervision and tried to find an affordable home plus adapt to college academics in one month? And you flunked out? What a shock.

The University Hill problem, sometimes inflated to the Riot Problem, or the Housing Problem, is one of Boulder's straw dogs, just like the Ramsey case. Anyone with common sense knows the solution. But this is Boulder, where we favor pretend solutions to problems vaguely related to the ones for which we profess concern.