To the disgruntlement of some 14,000 coeds, a whole slew of surfers, and many Isla Vista community members, I.V. beaches have been closed for two weekends in a row. The closures were a preemptive protective measure in light of previous years’ destruction from Floatopia. The I.V. community, however, is responding by partying on and planning protests.
Floatopia, I.V.’s annual spring quarter, booze-soaked beach party, has enjoyed a short-lived tradition. Fewer than 10 years ago, around 300 people did minimal damage to I.V.’s beaches. Recent Facebook organizing has expanded the event, ensuring that members of the I.V. community and out-of-towners alike know about and plan for the day of drunken debauchery well in advance.
The final straw was 2009’s April 4 Floatopia, when some 12,000 partiers flocked to I.V.’s beaches, saturating the sand and shallow waters with bottles, cans, human waste, and other nonperishable trash. According to Drew Sugars, the Public Information Officer of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, 2009’s Floatopia sent more than 33 people to emergency rooms with alcohol poisoning, lacerations from broken bottles, heat exposure, and falls from the bluff.
In the immediate aftermath, the County Board of Supervisors banned alcohol from the beach stretching from UCSB’s campus through the 6800 block of Del Playa Drive. Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr called it an issue of safety, noting that alcohol consumption and ocean activities pose threats when combined. (Drinking on the beach is still possible after acquisition of a permit.)
But the following year — the weekend of April 10 and 11, 2010 — saw more than just an alcohol ban on the beach. Police closed I.V.’s beaches, forcing partiers to remain atop the bluffs. Excellent weather and the lack of a noise ordinance during the day were the perfect recipe for what became known as “Deltopia” — the filling of Del Playa Drive and the houses along the bluff with people, music, alcohol. It was effectively the Halloween of spring quarter; the costumes were bikinis, the weather was flawless, the goal was to rage. The beach was unnecessary, and it led the Sheriff’s Office to report “no major incidents”; Deltopia proved less treacherous than Floatopia.
This year, however, the I.V. community tried for another beach celebration. According to the Facebook event, Floatopia’s 2011 event would host more than 14,000 guests, including students at UCSB and SBCC and young people from all over Southern California. When the Sheriff’s office announced that it would be blocking beach accesses up and down I.V.’s bluffs the weekend of Saturday, April 2, Floatopia enthusiasts moved the event to the following weekend, of Saturday, April 9.
Outcries from the community have been numerous. Ten articles in the last two weeks alone have been published in UCSB’s campus newspaper, The Daily Nexus. Half were opinion pieces. Main arguments are that closure of the beach is an overreaction and that the I.V. community is misrepresented in the county’s decision.
Just as Facebook is arguably responsible for Floatopia’s demise (over-attendance and pollution never seemed to be issues when organization was simply a matter of word-of-mouth), it is the vehicle through which students are attempting to revive the revelry. Student Chris Alexander has organized a “Save Floatopia Protest” for this Wednesday and Thursday morning’s annual meetings of the Coastal Commission at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
The “Save Floatopia Protest,” which has almost 400 confirmed guests, is the most comprehensive, organized attempt by the I.V. community to combat the county’s reaction to Floatopia. “The county has gone too far for two straight years in what is an egregious overreaction and flagrant rights violation by shutting down our beaches,” Alexander argues in encouragement of the protest.
In promotion of his case, Alexander cites Section 30001.5 of the Coastal Commission’s Public Resources Code, which aims to “maximize public access to and along the coast and maximize public recreational opportunities in the coastal zone consistent with sound resources conservation principles and constitutionally protected rights of private property owners.”
He also cites the code’s Section 30210, from the public access article, which includes a state mandate of the California Constitution that requires “maximum access, which shall be conspicuously posted, and recreational opportunities shall be provided for all the people consistent with public safety needs and the need to protect public rights, rights of private property owners, and natural resource areas from overuse.”
Alexander, who aims to get legal representation and rally up a group of 1,000 or more protesters, encourages I.V. dwellers to show respect and demonstrate civility in order to “avoid sullying the reputation of I.V. further.” He mentioned fourth-year UCSB student Chris Par’s performance at a County Board of Supervisors meeting last year, from which he was forcefully removed due to inarticulate, profanity-ridden arguments against the county’s closure of the beach, as an example of what not to do. (Par organized the “Protest to Stop Closing the Beach,” for Saturday, April 9 at a location called “They’re Gonna Close the Beach Every Weekend Until 2020,” which 16 people attended on Facebook but apparently nobody attended in real life.)
Par’s failed protest does speak to a fear shared by Isla Vista residents that continued postponements of Floatopia will be accompanied by continued closures of the beach. Both weekends saw hundreds of surfers, dog walkers, joggers, and kayakers kept disappointedly high and dry. Beach-goers of all ages and with all intentions had to walk half a mile up the coast past the 6800 block of Del Playa Drive, where they could descend the bluffs to Sands and Devereux Beaches at Coal Oil Point. Sugars maintains that, “The Sheriff’s office is prepared to enforce any future closures if necessary.”
But Saturday the 9th may have played host to the loud, debaucherous, beer-soaked Deltopia that Isla Vista residents needed to get their yearly fix. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff and the Isla Vista Foot Patrol had officers both blocking beach accesses and biking up and down the streets, ready to regulate on raging parties. They seemed to share a sense of accomplishment in controlling the event. Officer Mark Ward, who’s been serving with the IVFP for almost 20 years, said that as long as everybody remained safe, he was happy.
Talk of treating Floatopia like another Halloween is frequent but likely unfruitful. According to the IVFP, events like Halloween cost the county close to half a million dollars annually. Budgeting Floatopia in the same way would cost around the same amount.
For now, the controversy surrounds beach closures. As tactfully stated by many a stumbling student Saturday afternoon, “If drinking’s banned on the beach, I’d rather be up here anyway!” It remains to be seen whether I.V. representation at the Coastal Commission’s meeting Wednesday at 9 a.m. will be effective.