The Daily Californian Online

Southside Resident Seeks Settlement With Two Fraternities

By Gabby Fastiggi
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Category: News > City > Courts

UC Berkeley's Alpha Gamma Omega fraternity is one of two fraternities involved in settlement discussions with neighbors over excessive noise.

Tensions between UC Berkeley fraternities and residents of Southside may be alleviated somewhat, as two fraternities and a long-term resident may soon reach the settlement of a lawsuit filed in January.

Citing chronic alcohol abuse, littering and noise violations as grounds for the suit, the South of Campus Neighborhood Association and resident Paul Ghysels - who lives between two fraternities on the edge of campus - filed a class-action lawsuit against 35 Berkeley fraternities last January, one of the first of its kind in the nation.

Currently, two of the fraternities, Alpha Gamma Omega and Sigma Phi Epsilon, are in negotiations with Ghysels' lawyers to reach a settlement along the terms of eliminating alcohol abuse and requiring greater adult supervision in the fraternities, according to Yolanda Huang, one of Ghysels' attorneys.

The other fraternities, 33 in total, are still fighting the lawsuit because they object to the accusations and terms of settlement, Huang said.

One of two fraternities involved in the settlement, Alpha Gamma Omega, has agreed to remain alcohol-free and institute three adult chapter mentors to check in on a biweekly basis.

Although John Seevers, national president of Alpha Gamma Omega, said he believes the house was implicated in the lawsuit simply because it was a fraternity, he is agreeing to settle with Ghysels and the Neighborhood Association because "it's easy to agree to something you already do."

"We have moral standards for conduct and are already a dry house - becoming alcohol- and drug-free doesn't cost us a thing," Seevers said.

According to Huang, landlords Stan Momtchev and Elena Kaloyanova - who own the Sigma Phi Epsilon house on Channing Way - have agreed that the fraternity will not hold parties, have loud music or allow fire or safety hazards on the property. The landlords will also ensure the grounds are cleaned weekly and check on the property three times a week.

Huang said her client would be willing to forgo monetary compensation and further litigation if all the fraternities in the suit agree not to sell alcohol to underage persons or host loud parties.

"My client just wants good, neighborly behavior, and he wants fraternities to be what they say they are on all of their websites - future leaders of America and positive role models," Huang said.

Campus Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Grahaeme Hesp said he has not yet heard from either of the chapters or Mr. Ghysels' attorneys but that he is aware of the possible settlements. He added that the university finds it troubling that dozens of fraternities have been targeted by the lawsuit.

"We do know that some fraternities have engaged in behaviors that have upset neighbors, and the university has worked extensively over the last few years to bring together fraternity members, neighbors and others to address these issues, and we continue to do so," Hesp said in an e-mail.

According to Huang, her client and the fraternities are in "constant" negotiation, and no court date has been set for a hearing with the other 33 fraternities.

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