Every year, local law enforcement and other organizations gear up for the influx of revelers, many from out of town, attracted to the idea of celebrating Halloween in Isla Vista. Getting ready for this onslaught is a monumental and expensive task. Fences go up to protect UCSB property, porta-potties trundle in, and law enforcement deploy in force. While many people seem to think that Halloween is a necessary evil, some people question whether it has to be.
A group of residents and representatives have posed this question over the years. They would like to know why nonlocals are allowed to pour into I.V. each year and engage in a celebration that costs the county thousands of dollars. Lieutenant Rob Plastino from the Isla Vista Foot Patrol said, “Last year, the county spent over $200,000 on Sheriff’s assets. However, this is just a fraction of the cost to public agencies because it does not include other county resources such as fire and medics, probation or courts. Additionally, we have our many allied agencies that respond to our request for help and cover the costs from their own pockets.”
This is not the first, or last, time residents will ask county representatives to call off the party. However, according to county officials, shutting down the Halloween celebration would violate people’s rights. The question I want to ask, however, is what would happen if college students planned a huge street celebration near a celebrity’s house in Montecito, say Oprah’s? Would there suddenly be a law put on the books prohibiting people from congregating in large groups? Probably.
This, however, is a moot point. The question of whether or not the Halloween celebration should happen again next year does not have to be addressed right now. With Halloween less than a week away, the countdown to this year’s party has already begun.
Local officials have spent months preparing for Halloween. Lt. Plastino said meetings started in the summer on to make sure I.V. is ready. This year, he said they expect about 20,000 people each night, up from last year because Halloween falls on a Thursday, making a convenient four-day weekend. Last year, he said, the nightly attendance was about 15,000.
Plastino said that hundreds of law enforcement officers will be working in the area. “We saturate the area with law enforcement, including bike patrols, mobile units, foot patrols, and mounted (horseback) units,” he said. The horseback units are not a usual sight in the area; police officers are more often seen riding bicycles, but Plastino said they were a necessary addition: “They are uniquely capable of moving crowds in a safe, but expeditious manner, should the need arise. They are also effective in keeping the crowds circulating and moving, which prevents overcrowding of certain areas.”
Plastino revealed three laws that were the top three reasons people were arrested or cited last year: Drunk in Public, Minor in Possession of Alcohol, or the Open Container prohibition. “So, alcohol is the number one reason people get arrested or cited,” he said.
No official tally exists that identifies how many at the Halloween celebration come from out of town, but Plastino said, “[Of] the percentage of partygoers that end up being cited or arrested … 40 percent are local students (SBCC or UCSB). The other 60 percent are from out of town (nonstudents or other schools from out of the area).”
In addition to the law enforcement presence, medical personnel are on hand to help those who are injured or hurt; ambulances and a triage unit set up near Del Playa. “Our primary concern with anyone that has been hurt is to get them out of the crowds and to our medical personnel for treatment. We have an amazing group of Search and Rescue volunteers who work tirelessly all night long, with specialized equipment, to transport the hurt or injured from crowded locations and to an ambulance for transport to our triage center.”
Students as Part of the Solution
There is a welcome addition to the I.V. Halloween health and safety plan — eight porta-potties, at everyone’s disposal. Plastino said that community members had asked for porta-potties, and Associated Students (AS) of UCSB complied. This year a row of porta-potties will be set up in Capps Park, on Del Playa, with security guards to monitor their use. Plastino said AS provided the new porta-potties “to cut down on the urinating in public citations.” While Associated Students also lobbied for the installation of high, chain link fences along the cliffs and open spaces, the addition wasn’t possible this year.
According to Plastino, many student groups involved in promoting safety during Halloween encourage students to drink in moderation and to be aware of the dangers of the cliffs and partying on balconies. He said that Alex Moore, the external vice president of Local Affairs with AS, was particularly instrumental in making Halloween safer. Plastino said he distributed information and organized the installation of the porta-potties, hydration stations, and held town hall meetings.
He said that the organization Life of the Party has focused on getting the word out about the dangers of the cliffs and balconies, the need to drink in moderation, and the penalties for couch burning. It’s also been involved in a Keep It Local campaign to discourage residents from inviting groups of out-of-town friends to the celebration.
With safety a top priority, Plastino said that Sean Swale, a UCSB student on the Commission on Public Safety, has been encouraging residents to lock their doors and windows to prevent burglaries. “Overall, I have been very pleased with the number of students and student organizations that have shown a vested interested in promoting their own safety,” he said.
While there are a lot of people who look at Halloween in I.V. as an event to be endured but not enjoyed, there is a silver lining. Every time students take responsibility for a situation and become involved in trying to make it better, they show that a negative can be turned into more of a positive. Even though I don’t think that Halloween in I.V. is a necessary evil, I realize that every year things seem a little less crazy. The reason is simple — there are people out there like Lt. Plastino, Alex Moore, students in Life of the Party, and Sean Swale who are trying to make things better.