Floatopia 2009
Meredith Ennis

In an unprecedented move, the Sheriff’s Department will be shutting down county beaches accessible from UCSB and Isla Vista this Saturday in anticipation of an enormous turnout for a beach fiesta commonly known as Floatopia.

While many students and residents have cried foul about the decision, Santa Barbara County officials say the move must be made to protect public safety. After last year’s Floatopia, which drew an estimated 12,000 people to Isla Vista beaches, a mess of garbage and litter was left behind and dozens of emergency room visits were required. Since then, the county has banned alcohol at Isla Vista beaches, unless a special event permit is obtained.

Parks Director Dan Hernandez called the sole application to sponsor the event Saturday “sub-par” and “far and away inadequate.” Among other things needed in a thorough application, Hernandez said, were plans for liability insurance, security coordination, sewage and sanitation and trash removal. Indeed, the applicant, UCSB sophomore Chris Par, took more of an “it’ll all work out” sort of approach, planning for just two port-a-johns to service the estimated thousands of people, anticipating most people could just use the facilities at their homes. He was also counting on everyone picking up after themselves, unlike last year, when the beaches were littered with garbage following the event.

Par—whose Facebook page includes the quote “you can ALWAYS RETAKE the class, but you can NEVER RELIVE the party”—made a loud appearance sprinkled with obscenities in front of the Board of Supervisors Tuesday during public comment, telling the board they can “close the beach, but the people of Isla Vista will party day and night.” He was eventually escorted out of the board room by deputies, but not before telling the board the beach closure was taking away student’s rights.

While his delivery left something to be desired, his point that the rights of Isla Vista’s beach-goers were being trampled on has struck a similar chord in the many who have questioned the legality of blocking access to the beach, which authorities admitted had never been done before. At the very least, it seems, there can be a better resolution. As Clayton Carlson, external vice president for local affairs of UCSB’s Associated Students, put it in a press release Tuesday afternoon, “My office acknowledges that action needed to be taken by the County of Santa Barbara to mitigate the anticipated effects of Floatopia 2010. However, we also realize that a one-time beach closure does not provide a long-term solution to preventing unpermitted events on the beach.”

The decision, however, was not one made lightly, said Lt. Brian Olmstead of the I.V. Foot Patrol. “We are concerned about limiting the beach access,” he said. “But we weighed that with the public safety hazard.”

He’s speaking from experience. Last year’s Floatopia population exploded—up from less than 1,000 each of the previous years to more than 10 times that—thanks to social networking sites like Facebook. But the explosion also led to an increase in hurt heads and sliced feet. There were 33 people taken to the hospital for medical treatment, including two who fell from the bluff and one who suffered a head injury from a thrown bottle. The rest, according to authorities, were treated for alcohol poisoning, heat exposure, and cuts from broken bottles in the sand. There were 78 citations issued and 13 arrests, mostly for throwing bottles from the cliffs.

This time around, extra deputies will patrol the beach areas and Del Playa, while others will sit at beach access entrances with barricades. Should partiers be caught on the beach area—the county’s jurisdiction extends into the water 100 yards from the mean high tide point, according to Olmstead—they could be issued a citation and face arrest if they don’t comply with commands to leave.

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr—at one point called a dictator by Par on Facebook—said that ever since the event popped up on Facebook, the county tried to find someone to make it a sponsored event, but everyone backed away from the idea. “It became clear no one was coming forward,” she said, and the county decided to take the steps it has taken. “We want people to have a good time, but we want people to be safe.” Par submitted his application on March 29, not enough time, and with insufficient planning to pull the event off. “Even though well-meaning, he just doesn’t have the resources to do it,” Farr said.

In response to the decision, students have suggested everything from planning a beach party every weekend until officials relent, to moving the event up the beach, to moving the party up or back a day. But as it stands now, it appears that organizers are now plotting and planning to turn the streets of Isla Vista—rather than the beach—into party central. Whatever happens, Olmstead said his department is ready.


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