Panelists in the Isla Vista Theatre discuss the effects of Floatopia
Paul Wellman

Monday night, more than 75 UCSB students, faculty members, and concerned Isla Vistans met in I.V. Theater to discuss the damage wrought by Floatopia – the April 4 event that had some 12,000 clustering on I.V. beaches and partying in rafts and other floatation devices – as well as plans to manage the May “sequel” event, Floatopia 2. For about 90 minutes, five panelists responded to questions from the audience. And although the forum did not generate any tangible results, it provided a space for people on both sides of the Floatopia debate to discuss the beach bash and its looming successor. The forum was characterized by a lot of back-and-forth commentary, which one audience member called “reactionary,” but a few questions did elicit productive conversation.

Associated Students Vice President-elect Clayton Carlson, who organized the Facebook group touting Monday’s forum, moderated the discussion. Panelists included J.P. Primeau, president of Associated Students; Lieutenant Brian Olmstead, station commander for the Isla Vista Foot Patrol; Liz Buda, vice-chair of the Isla Vista Recreation and Park Board; Carolyn Buford, associate dean of students; and Brad Cardinale, assistant professor in the Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology department. Each focused on a narrower issue in the larger Floatopia context. Primeau urged students to fight for a safer and more sustainable beach bash, and he remained hopeful that the handful of students who attended the forum were genuinely concerned about the mess Floatopia has become. “It’s our responsibility to go out there and educate those that aren’t here today,” he said.

The public and panelists in the Isla Vista Theatre discuss the effects of Floatopia
Paul Wellman

He explained the “moral dilemma” that Floatopia-goers face: They have a responsibility, on the one hand, to represent UCSB and protect its environment, but also a desire to “have fun” because college only lasts four years. “We really have to manage that balance,” he said. He added that pointing fingers at Floatopia’s coordinators is not the way to correct the situation. Instead, he said, “We as a community need to step up and take responsibility for this event.”

Olmstead raised safety concerns and discussed the possibility of implementing new ordinances in order to avoid another Floatopia fiasco. He lauded students for launching cleanup campaigns, but suggested that picking up trash doesn’t address the overriding issue of student safety.

“We’re looking at ways to promote safety,” he said. “Right now, as it stands, this is a very dangerous event and we need to do something.” He said local law enforcement agencies have been “looking at ordinances that will manage alcohol in I.V. and down on the beach.”

Buda, who said she represented the pro-Floatopia segment of the I.V. population, countered that new laws and regulations aren’t the answer. Rather, she said, it’s important that the student body develop a means for controlling and containing the fated Floatopia.

“I really don’t feel like boycotting the event is the right idea,” she said. She went on to say that Floatopia should be managed at the “grassroots” level and its future shouldn’t be determined “from the top down [in the form of] new laws and ordinances,” she said. Buda explained that though students do care about their environment, “They also hold Floatopia really close to their hearts and they want to see it happen,” she said. And, she continued, because Floatopia will likely return, it’s time to rally for positive change.

Buford made her case as supporter of the anti-Floatopia campaign. She talked about how her aversion to the beach bash is “personal,” as she has a deep love and respect for UCSB and the I.V. community. She recalled the way that the student body’s reaction to the 1969 Union Oil spill really got the ball rolling for the U.S. environmental movement.

“That is such a legacy that we have and we have an obligation to sustain it,” she said. Buford claimed to “represent staff and faculty and students that work so hard for this place,” and charged that Floatopia “erases” the positive contributions that students make to the community.

Cardinale, on the other hand, said that while he’s not anti-Floatopia, he’s deeply concerned about the marine environment that sustained so much damage as a result of the beachside celebration. He mentioned that the Santa Barbara Channel is home to the “highest diversity of marine mammals in the world” and that UCSB is consistently ranked among the best marine biology programs in the country. He regretted the amount of trash and human waste that Floatopia deposited in the ocean, and said that he can “pretty much guarantee that we’re going to have some water quality problems because of this event.” Cardinale also expressed concerns that the National Science Foundation will consider cutting a portion of its funding to his department, in response to media reports about the environmental catastrophe that was Floatopia.

The panelists did touch on the issue of managing and regulating the Floatopia that’s bound to descend, again, on the shores of Isla Vista. Unfortunately, time constraints did not allow for an in-depth discussion of potential ways to control Floatopia 2.

Primeau, for his part, called Floatopia a “cultural phenomenon” in that it takes as little as three weeks for students to amass a crowd of floaters via word-of-mouth and Facebook. He also said, though, that an event of that size and scope requires three to four months’ planning.

Cardinale agreed that a Floatopia repeat will require months of advance planning, but he said he’s “hopeful” and “enthusiastic” that students and faculty can find ways to minimize damage like that of the first Floatopia. He said he has plans to meet with a group of students who intend to organize Floatopia in 2010.

Buda, who organized this year’s Chilla Vista, a block party-style I.V. celebration, suggested that perhaps an active, same-day cleanup will cut down on the amount of waste Floatopia dumps on the beach.

Primeau spoke about the necessity of lifeguards, medical personnel, and a police force at the venue. He suggested treating Floatopia like the All-Sorority Volleyball Tournament, a “ticketed and sponsored event.” In turning Del Playa beach into a “venue,” law enforcement might be able to reduce the size of the floating population, and to provide necessary waste control measures like trash receptacles and port-a-potties.

The issue, Olmstead countered, would be finding someone to front the bill. He called it a “high-liability event” because of the inherent dangers in a party involving massive amounts of alcohol, towering cliffs, and a huge body of water.

“No one wants to sponsor [Floatopia] because it’s too expensive and it’s such a huge liability. A person probably couldn’t even afford the insurance,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest problems.”

Olmstead said that an event like Halloween costs the county $450,000 every year and that budgeting for another huge UCSB party will mean spending money that “could be spent somewhere else,” he said.

In response to a question about whether the county generated any kind of revenue from administering so many citations during Floatopia, he said that law enforcement doesn’t “get really any money back,” he said. That money, he said, goes toward alcohol education programs and the courts.

It’s not enough money, either, to cover the costs associated with increasing the police and medical presence at Floatopia. These are real concerns, he said, as the Floatopia police force was understaffed, and the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital “maxed out [its] capabilities : which almost forced a shut-down of the hospital,” he said.

Primeau said that while I.V. might not have the infrastructure to sustain an event this huge, “There is a tremendous amount of human capital in actually being able to go out and volunteer at this event,” he said.

Buda agreed that student activism will make or break an event like Floatopia. She supported “keeping the event local,” and she urged audience members to volunteer their time at the next big beach bash.

Cardinale’s main point was that the size of the Floatopia population needed to shrink dramatically. “You cannot have 12,000 people on the beach and have it be sustainable,” he said.

But though some panelists and audience members encouraged managing and reforming Floatopia, a number of attendees remained starkly opposed to the event.

Michael D. Young, vice chancellor for student affairs, stood up and said that Floatopia does not “compute” for him. He couldn’t understand, he said, why forum participants were “arguing about what we can do to systematically do irreparable damage to our environment.” He said that he’s always been proud of UCSB students, and that he’s not against having fun, but that an event this destructive just doesn’t seem like a logical idea.

Because the forum didn’t successfully hash out a real plan of action, some attendees expressed a desire for a follow-up meeting. But in any event, Monday’s discussion was a step toward tackling the thing Floatopia has become.


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