Just a little more than a week ago, Isla Vista felt like a war zone during what is being called a riot. For hours, a helicopter circled Del Playa, police sirens blazed, and there was a pervasive feeling that things could definitely get worse. I watched KEYT as “protesters” stood their ground, and the SWAT team, in their battle regalia, waited to move on the crowd. In the end, tear gas was thrown, rubber bullets were fired, and people dispersed.
At the time, I felt nothing but anger. No one likes to be kept awake until 1 a.m. and advised to stay inside because your neighborhood isn’t safe. However, I wasn’t surprised. When I saw swarms of people parking their cars on my street and wandering down to Del Playa on the Friday afternoon before Deltopia, I had a feeling that things could go wrong. Like locusts, more and more people from out of the area descended on I.V. throughout the weekend.
The thousands upon thousands of people who were invited, or not invited, by locals to participate in Deltopia created a situation that was unsafe. This isn’t something new in I.V. Parties snowball into unsafe situations. When 10 people get together and party, things are usually fine. When 400 people show up to a party, there can be fights, robberies, vandalism, and many other types of problems.
Last year’s Deltopia celebration was relatively quiet. When I visited downtown, all I saw were droves of peaceful drunken people, wandering around in bikinis and swim trunks, with floatation devices in hand. There was one tragedy, however. Giselle Ayala, an 18-year-old student from Santa Rosa, fell off the cliffs during a party and was found on the beach by a jogger the next day.
The Deltopia riot is just one in a string of crimes that have occurred in I.V. recently. A young woman was gang raped on the UCSB campus in February (the suspects still haven’t been apprehended), and stabbings, robberies, assaults, and other crimes seem to be on the increase. Santa Barbara County officials, the police department, UCSB, and many others have responded to the aftermath of the riot, knowing that things have got to change, or they could get worse.
Isla Vista is known as the place to party, and people come from all over the state, and even from across the country, to attend celebrations. With an influx of people comes an increase in problems. Officials should look at ways to institute laws, ordinances, or fines that will make Isla Vista a less attractive place to party. This might make people think twice before coming to I.V. to party.
In addition, county officials could look at instituting, or enforcing, laws governing the use of public streets in I.V. The party should never spill out to the streets, especially on Del Playa. It is a long street, bordered on one side by the cliffs and on the other by apartments. A fire, an earthquake, or other type of emergency could put people in serious danger. Party-goers would be trapped in a sea of people.
Now for Something Positive
Sometimes, when something bad happens, we find a silver lining. In this case, one of the positive results is the way UCSB students have responded to Deltopia. They have picked up trash, spoken at county meetings, and led discussions on what went wrong.
Last Thursday, April 10, the university’s radio station, KCSB-FM 91.9, held a town hall forum on campus to discuss Deltopia. Speakers made thoughtful comments about what happened and what needs to change.
“Few people could have expected what happened,” said Kyle Trager, a UCSB student and KCSB’s general manager. He said the goal of the event was to allow people to “participate in a safe and open forum. We hope that this can contribute to a positive dialogue.”
Matt Malmlund, KCSB’s digital media coordinator, described his experience during Deltopia as “astounding and harrowing.” The riot was near his house, and he could see the smoke rising from the tear gas that was deployed. He said that the problems were caused by miscommunication between all the parties involved. “The fact that police had to resort to violence is deeply upsetting,” he said.
Shalu Singh, a third-year UCSB student, said, “I feel like I speak for all students when I say I am pissed off.” She described watching people peeing in public. “I don’t know how this turned into Coachella, but it did. I think people took advantage.” She added, “Keep it local. I.V. is meant for us. Respect where you live.”
Freshman UCSB student Jennifer Liam said that she was impressed with the response afterward. “Everyone started to think and say how we could stop this.” She added, “I’m proud of UCSB, my community, and I.V.”
KCSB’s Trager summed up the problem in a nutshell, “It’s fun to party, but you have to know how.”