Deltopia — the annual unsanctioned street party held each spring in Isla Vista — is anticipated once again this weekend, but with the COVID-19 pandemic still looming, local officials are hoping for lower turnout and preparing a message focused on awareness and safety.
Authorities, including the Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD), UC Santa Barbara, the City of Goleta, and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, have all pitched in to promote a public messaging campaign urging Isla Vista residents to stay local and stay home over the weekend.
“The stakes are so much higher this year because of COVID-19 and the fact that it is spreading in the community,” IVCSD President Spencer Brandt told the Independent. “What we’ve been trying to do as a coordinated group is to get the message out that there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we’ve got to hold strong for a little bit while longer, and that means that Deltopia can’t happen the way that it has in the past.”
Many of the normal safety measures are in place this year, such as the Outdoor Festival Ordinance, where loud, amplified music is prohibited between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m., with fines of up to $500 for residents in violation. UCSB’s campus and housing is closed to overnight visitors and guest parking Friday-Monday, April 2-4. In Goleta, cars parked in certain neighborhoods adjacent to Isla Vista must have valid parking permits. The IVCSD also announced that I.V. beaches will be closed April 2-4 and 9-11.
But many of the usual measures put in place to limit crowds and out-of-towners can’t be utilized this year due to the pandemic.
“Pre-pandemic, the big quagmire with Deltopia was how do we allow for our residents to socialize and have a good time but to keep it safe and local,” Brandt said. “Now with the pandemic, many of those social activities are not safe.”
A key focus is now on testing rather than simply controlling crowd sizes. The IVCSD and UCSB are encouraging students to get tested after arriving back in Isla Vista following spring break, as many students are expected to move back this weekend. Rapid testing will be available at the I.V. Theater this Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.
Isla Vista Foot Patrol is employing new strategies in the morning this weekend to help prevent parties from forming in the first place, according to Community Resource Deputy Justin Schroeder. When officers see the telltale signs of party preparation, such as large tables, stacks of solo cups, and handles of liquor, they will step in to tell residents about public safety orders, which prohibit gatherings of more than three households.
But by the afternoon if any large parties are in progress, Schroeder said that officers will then issue administrative or criminal citations and potentially make arrests against those refusing to comply.
“The order is no gatherings of more than three households in one place. Well, the problem in Isla Vista is that a household can be like 30 people or more,” Schroeder said. “If we go to a house where there’s like 20 people and it looks like a party, but if it’s a large property, we can’t necessarily verify that those 20 people don’t all live there.”
Another rule in place to stop partying this weekend is the Outdoor Festival Ordinance, which Schroeder said is a “no warning, zero tolerance” rule against loud music after 6 p.m.
During a non-pandemic Deltopia, officers are more focused on crowd control management, to ensure fire trucks and ambulances have room to step in if someone is having a crisis such as alcohol or drug overdose, Schroeder said. But this year, the goal has shifted to eliminating crowds altogether due to the threat of a COVID-19 spike.
“Last year, for all intents and purposes, Deltopia didn’t really happen,” Brandt said.
“The community really came together and said that because we are so early on in the pandemic, it’s not appropriate for us to gather right now.”
During last year’s Deltopia, which occurred early on during a statewide stay-at-home order, Brandt walked along Del Playa, where he said he mainly observed people gathering in small groups with friends or their own households, a far cry from the usual large parties and crowded streets that Deltopia is known for.
It’s the goal of local officials that this year’s Deltopia looks similar to last year’s, but after a year of the pandemic — and a trend earlier in the fall of partying along Del Playa — crowds are expected to be a bit larger.
“Even among folks who have been very COVID-safe throughout the entire pandemic, it can be easy to let your guard down momentarily,” Brandt said. “We are on a positive trajectory, [but] that progress can be threatened if we have a large outbreak in Isla Vista, and it’s going to threaten the ability of UCSB to keep the library open, to proceed with the Rec Center opening, and it’s going to make spring quarter look a lot different if there is large gatherings this weekend.”
Schroeder expects that crowds will be larger than last year due to “COVID fatigue,” which is why other officers in the Sheriff’s Office will be on standby if crowds do get out of control.
“I think it will be crowded, there will be people around Del Playa … and there will be a handful of large parties, but we’re hoping to keep it to just a handful and not let it get out of control with a bunch of people coming from out of town.”