Halloween 2015 was a bust. The majority of students went home for the weekend. UCSB students that stayed had the option of attending subsidized $5 concerts. Two hundred police for the second year running and a well-dispersed “don’t come” message led to one of the quietest weekends of the fall. A newcomer to this annual debacle might ask “what is all the hype about Halloween?” Sadly, the answer is the Isla Vista Halloween disaster is decades in the making with millions expended on a law enforcement problem that was already solved — in 1996. After the late Willy Chamberlin stepped on Halloween for three years, the Daily Bruin declared in 1996 that the “Party’s Over” in Isla Vista. Sadly, it was not.
Twenty Yang years later UCSB’s reputation as a party school is at a level unparalleled in the history of the University of California. Between 2004 and 2015, Santa Barbara ranked in or near the top 10 of the Princeton Review’s Top 20 Party Schools every single year: 2004-12th, 2005-5th, 2006-10th, 2007-10th, 2008-9th, 2010-10th, 2011-8th, 2012-5th, 2013-2nd, 2014-2nd, and 2015-3rd. Princeton Review’s data is affirmed by other rankings such as Playboy‘s that recognized UCSB in 2002, 2006, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Santa Barbara’s top 20 ranking by Princeton and others goes back to at least 2001. One need only trace the history of Halloween, Floatopia, and Deltopia parties to realize that UCSB’s party school reputation was decades in the making and is out of control.
Only one other University of California campus ever graced the Princeton Review list, and that is UC Santa Cruz with a third-place ranking in 2001 that fell to 15th in 2002 and thereafter never appeared again. Administrators laud UCSB’s appearance on Princeton’s “Green University” list but are seemingly oblivious to the ubiquitous Top 10 party school ranking. After the last two Halloweens it appears the head-in-the-sand lead-from-behind approach to I.V. mega-parties is finally ending. The reality, however, is that I.V.’s drug- and alcohol-fueled party machine fires up every weekend like clockwork. This is more than a one-party problem. Why is this trend allowed to continue uninterrupted at what is ostensibly one of California’s top universities?
The answer is cultivation of a lawless environment. This year two UCSB students were shot on Sabado Tarde Road. The incident was drug related. In November a UCSB student threw himself off the cliff under the influence of drugs. Most recently a drugged UCSB student lacerated his arm so severely that medical personnel could not save his life. Do drugs have anything to do with UCSB’s party school reputation? This year students sat outside the chancellor’s office for 13 hours protesting the lack of response to sexual assault. Does sexual assault have anything to do with UCSB’s party culture?
According to the UCSB catalog, students are expected to comply with all local, state, and federal laws. City College removes students who break the law — why can’t UCSB follow its own rules and penalize lawbreakers? Lawbreakers and the party culture are expensive. In 2015 alone the combined UCSB/Santa Barbara County Halloween expenditure was over $1 million. Almost half of that came from the county — our tax dollars. These are the same dollars that UCSB removes every time it purchases a housing complex. This year’s purchase of Tropicana Gardens took $1.6 million a year out of the county tax coffers. That is 1.5 Halloweens per annum — forever. UCSB’s new Francisco Torres towers times two are bringing thousands more to the party with no tax support whatsoever.
UCSB must build on the positive result of Halloween 2015 by using its own rules to help put an end to the rape, sexual assault, riots, drug shootings, and drunken debauchery that are injuring students and staining the school’s reputation. Enforcement of laws prohibiting underage drinking and public inebriation are an obvious first step. Get wasted, get cited, go home. After decades of partying one thing is certain — nothing will happen unless the Wild West culture of UCSB ends, and that means using consistent, community-oriented law enforcement to stop the party culture. Our community paid to end this debacle in the 1990s, and now we are doing so all over again — minus the tax dollars from Francisco Torres and Tropicana.
Peter Neushul is a 30-year Isla Vista resident and property owner.