Rohnert Park leaders acted Tuesday to clamp down on out-of-control parties, doubling the penalty for hosting gatherings that police respond to and that are deemed unruly.

Under an urgency ordinance that took effect immediately, someone who hosts such an unruly gathering is prohibited from throwing another party for 120 days. Under the former ordinance, the penalty was 60 days. Violations of the ban bring a $500 fine.

The council's unanimous 3-0 vote (Jake Mackenzie and Joe Callinan were absent) came in front of a roomful of city residents and Sonoma State University students, who Public Safety Director Brian Masterson said are the chief source of the rowdy party problem.

"Overall, of the 8,700 students who attend Sonoma State University, we do not have a problem with the majority of them — but there's a small group," said Masterson, who proposed the new ordinance.

Residents told the council they were fed up.

"Students have a short-term interest in the community; residents have a long-term interest. Students have to understand that," said James Christmann, an SSU biology professor and city resident.

"It's just gotten out of control," said Jane Weill, another resident who said she once counted 150 people leaving a student house party on her street.

"That is way too many; it's unreal," she said.

Students argued that the council should first give them a chance to tackle the problem themselves.

"We do recognize the problem and we want to be part of the solution," said Adam Rozenkranz, president of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. "We're attempting to change the culture of Sonoma State University so alcohol does not have such a prevalent role."

SSU student body president Mac Hart said student leaders began to work over the summer to address the problem.

Those efforts will gain steam, he said, when the whole student body returns from the summer.

"If we postpone six to eight weeks, we'll be able to use all our resources to see if we ... can take it upon ourselves as we have this summer to see if can have an impact," he said.

"We have energy on all areas behind shifting this culture. If we pass this right now, we're losing this opportunity," he said.

But the council said the problem was out of hand.

"The complaints from citizens and residents have risen tremendously in the past several years," Mayor Pam Stafford said. "These people are being harassed by parties."

And, though they lauded students for speaking articulately to the issue — "If you are the future leaders of California, we are in very good hands," Councilwoman Gina Belforte said — council members also expressed concern that students were skirting the real issue of out-of-control over-indulgence.

"The student body is just trying to rationalize the behavior," Councilman Amy Ahanotu said. "Hopefully this will be an inducement to solve the underlying problem."

Belforte said: "If you're really serious about changing the culture at Sonoma State and changing the culture about drinking and about alcohol abuse ... you won't stop what you're doing, you'll continue it and you will work hand-in-hand with public safety and the university."

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.