Every Sunday, members of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity put on clothes that display their letters and walk around their neighborhood, picking up trash as they go. They walk from their home on Halsted Street up Etiwanda Avenue and through the surrounding streets, “picking up anything, from something small like bottle caps to something big like a car battery,” said Geoffrey Peterson, president of ZBT. “We try to do things that show us not just as a fraternity but as part of the neighborhood.”
But much of the neighborhood is upset with the fraternities. “They’ve just done everything to make our lives miserable,” said Bhashkar Bhindie, who shares a fence with the fraternities and has been a resident in the neighborhood for 22 years. “It’s like we’re staying in a barrio.”
This is the way the interaction between the two groups has been for at least 30 years, and with the start of the semester and the coming rush week, the complaints will be worse than any other time of the year, said Jamison Keller, an activities coordinator at the Matador Involvement Center and Sigma Nu alumnus.
Only some of the fraternities and sororities have conditional-use zoning permits to allow for the high-density living necessary for an official frat house, Keller said. The other houses, like the one where the ZBT brothers live, are simply rented by the fraternities and only house about five brothers. The houses with permits are the only ones that can have events at the house, Keller said.
“That’s fine because they have approval from the city, but for those who don’t, they need to not be doing it,” he said.
Traffic, trash and noise are the biggest complaints neighbors have, Peterson said. “90 percent of the time it’s people parking in front,” he said. “Noise is usually what pushes them over.”
The parties are the problem for Gail Schepler, whose husband has owned the house they live in for 30 years. Schepler said the people who attend the parties are often loud and leave their trash behind.
“(The frats) say they can’t help what these people do, but they invite them here, so it’s their responsibility,” she said.
Ernest Greve, who has owned his home on Halsted for 50 years and is an Alpha Sigma Phi alumni, said the fraternities occasionally have parties until 2 or 3 a.m. He said the parties are noisy and result in trash on his lawn, with the occasional ruined mailbox. “I’ve probably replaced my mailbox 10 times over the past 30 years,” he said.
Greve said he is more understanding than his neighbors, though. “Do I have problems? Well, sort of,” he said. “But I overlook them.”
He isn’t the only one. Nikki Tucker, who has lived on Halsted since February 2000, said that because she and her husband are “more youth-oriented people” and knew they were moving next to a university, they think differently than many of their neighbors.
“To us, it was college students doing what college students do,” she said. “I would say the Methodist Church makes as much noise as the frat house.”
Bhindie said the fraternities have “been keeping up a stink” since April, and that’s what they do most of the time. “Instead of being productive members of the community, they’re out there yahooing most of the time,” he said.
John Norman, who has lived on Etiwanda since January 2004, said he hasn’t really had any problems since moving in and knows what to do if something seems amiss.
“If there’s a guy sitting out front strumming a guitar, and we don’t like it, we just pick up the phone and call campus police,” he said.
The campus police have said that they very rarely have problems with fraternities. Police who respond to complaints from neighbors often say they don’t understand why they were called, Keller said. While it is an extreme rarity, said Anne Glavin, chief of campus police, “if worst comes to worst, we have been known to shut down parties.
“We’ve worked with neighborhood groups; we’ve worked with fraternities and sororities; we’ve worked with the school,” she said. “We’ve worked with all of those organizations to work out problems.”
The Northridge East Neighborhood Council, one of the main advocates against the fraternities, did not return phone calls seeking a comment, but residents said the time for making deals with the fraternities is over.
“I want them gone,” Schepler said. “No more deal-making or compromises. They’ve been nothing but deal-breakers.”
Peterson said the neighborhood usually doesn’t want to work with them.
“It’s gotten to that point in their mind that (they think), ‘it doesn’t matter what we do. We’re not going to win,'” he said.
“We’ve worked on a compromise for 18 years, but it hasn’t worked,” Bhindie said.
“CSUN shouldn’t be reacting to things, they should be leading the way in saying, ‘what can we do about this?'”
CSUN has taken some steps toward solving the problem, Keller said. CSUN offered the Greeks a dorm building on Lassen and Zelzah to rent in the late 1970s, but the Greeks declined the offer, Keller said. CSUN has also considered buying land on Halsted and Merridy Street, which is north of Lassen and east of Zelzah, for use in a Greek Row, but decided against it, Peterson said. And while many of the neighbors think the fraternities need to be pushed on campus, Keller said, “There are a lot of questions that need to be answered first.”
Keller said the fraternities here would probably need to move into a building in the dorms, much like the fraternities at San Diego State, as opposed to the university-owned houses at USC and UCLA.
“What we need to find out first is if our students could do that,” he said. “Would they prefer to pay $3,000 to live on campus or would they rather live at home?”
What everyone needs to do for the moment is understand the other side’s position more, Glavin said. The fraternities need to understand they’re in a neighborhood and the neighbors need to understand they live next to a college campus, she said. “Some neighbors understand that and some don’t,” she said.
“The alumni, the university, the city, we all need to work together,” Keller said.
People need to cooperate more instead of just doing their own thing, Norman said. “What are the realistic expectations of coexistence?”
Coexistence seems to be the only option left.
Nobody is willing to move to get away from the problem. Bhindie said he isn’t the one that should be moving.
“Why should I move?” he asked. “Why should I be forced out of the place I’ve spent half my life at?”
Some, like Schepler and Greve, have considered moving but can’t afford to. Greve said, with a jovial smile on his face, “I’m 84, so I’ll probably die here. That’s when I’ll move.”