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Fraternity Defends Itself, Plans Injunction Appeal

Law: Sigma Pi says it started changing its ways after parties led to a suit. 'We've just been singled out,' one member says.

April 13, 2002|MANUEL GAMIZ JR. | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The red-tiled Sigma Pi fraternity house looks nothing like the Delta House of "Animal House" fame, but Long Beach officials have noticed many similarities. Among them: loud music, littering, drunkenness and urinating in public.

The 30-year-old house fell silent this week after a judge issued an injunction that threatened the Cal State Long Beach fraternity with fines or arrest if it didn't tone down its wild partying.

The frontyard was relatively clean this week, with the exception of a few cigarette butts. Inside, two fraternity brothers slept late, another played a Sony Playstation and the rest were at school.

Dean Wormer would have been proud. Fraternity members compared the injunction, granted Tuesday, to actions by the stubborn, fun-hating dean from the 1978 National Lampoon classic movie.

"We are not the only fraternity in the area," said Nick Scarabosio, a 20-year-old Sigma Pi member. "We've just been singled out. We do not have parties every night. We are college students, and every once in a while we have parties to unwind. It's normal."

Sigma Pi members said they started changing their ways in December, when they learned that the city had filed a lawsuit because of numerous complaints.

After the filing, Sigma Pi's last party was only 30 strong, with music provided by a small CD player, said 19-year-old freshman Candice Toda. Lately, parties have been held at clubs to reduce the number of complaints at the house. "It's been quiet here," said Toda, who has many friends in the fraternity. "It's been hard to find a good party to go to."

Fraternity members plan to appeal the injunction, which may become permanent when it goes before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge as early as June.

Sigma Pi is one of 35 fraternities and sororities--representing about 1,500 students--affiliated with the Cal State Long Beach campus. There is no fraternity row, and the organizations' houses are located throughout Long Beach.

Sigma Pi has more than 60 members, with 14 living at the house. It is regarded by many as one of the more popular fraternities on campus and, according to school officials, one of the smartest. Also one of the rowdiest, said City Atty. Bob Shannon.

Neighbors have called police 168 times since 1997 and, during the past fall semester, police made 12 trips to the Belmont Heights house on East 4th Street. "The problem has existed for the past four years. It wasn't a secret around here," Shannon said, pleased about the judge's decision. "We got what we were looking for."

Police resources are strained every time they go to the house, he said, adding that each visit requires at least two squad cars and five officers.

One section of the injunction bars the fraternity from having more than 30 members in the house at any time without a permit. Breaking any portion of the injunction could result in fines and possible jail time for members.

Shannon said that the issue could have been resolved without a court order but that the university did not view the problems as seriously as the city did.

"They could have failed to recognize the group as a fraternity," said Shannon, saying universities have taken that step in the past to rein in problem fraternities. He said he is also keeping an eye on a few other Cal State Long Beach fraternities.

Mike Hostetler, the university's dean of students, said several attempts were made to remedy the problem, including sending members of the school's Interfraternity Council to help out at the Sigma Pi house. No sanctions were placed against the fraternity because the university never received any formal complaints from citizens, Hostetler said.

Scarabosio complained that "no one ever talks about the good things that we do."

Sigma Pi members volunteer two hours each week to clean the neighborhood. The house also cleans a mile-long stretch of beach, which it adopted awhile back.

Many neighbors appreciate this side of Sigma Pi.

"They really don't bother us," said 41-year-old Katie Cotter, who lives on 5th Street, almost directly behind the house. "They've even offered to help me with any household chores I might need."

Cotter said a few parties spilled into the streets, but she always remembers the streets being clean in the morning.

Others, such as Mike Marsh, another 5th Street resident, were pleased to hear the party was over.

"Having a party and ending it at a reasonable time is one thing, but then you have drunk people lingering around the streets," said Marsh, a 47-year-old general contractor.

"I graduated from Cal State Long Beach in 1979, and I attended a few fraternity parties in my day," he said. "I'm not saying I'm an angel, but even then my limit was midnight. Now it's about 10 p.m."

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