Credit: Callahan Morgan

As a result of escalation of previous Deltopia events, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced that significant law enforcement changes were going to be initiated during Deltopia 2024. Deltopia, the annual unsanctioned event hosted in Isla Vista on the first weekend back from spring break for UCSB and SBCC students, is scheduled to occur Friday-Sunday, April 5-7, in the one-mile-block radius of Isla Vista. 

A community town hall hosted by UCSB’s Office of the Executive Vice President of Local Affairs (EVPLA) on March 6 offered community members a chance to discuss questions with panelists Lieutenant Garrett TeSlaa from the Sheriff’s Office Isla Vista Foot Patrol, UCPD Chief of Police Alex Yao and Field Operations Lieutenant Matt Bly, UCSB Alcohol & Drug Program Director Jacqueline Kurta, and UCSB Sociology professor and Police Accountability Board Chair Geoffrey Raymond. 

The town hall followed an announcement from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and  District Attorney’s Office that the Restorative Justice program — which allowed individuals to attend a class or perform community service as an alternative to harsher punishments — would be temporarily suspended during this year’s event.

Instead, citations administered from 6 a.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Sunday would not qualify for the Restorative Justice program and would be referred directly to the Santa Barbara courts. The program was instituted five years ago as a community-focused strategy and an alternative to students who receive non-violent misdemeanors – often for minor-in-possession or open container – offering a two-hour Restorative Justice class and mandatory community service as a waiver for their citations. 

Lieutenant TeSlaa explained that the 24-hour suspension of the program is in reaction to last year’s Deltopia, which saw a 50 percent increase in crowd size, 153 percent increase in hospitalizations, 100 percent increase in medical calls, 37 individuals treated at a triage tent, and the death of a UCSB student from a fentanyl-related overdose. TeSlaa said that referring citations to the courts sends a “big message” intended to discourage participation in Deltopia, by I.V. residents as well as out-of-towners. Some individuals participating in Deltopia, TeSlaa said, disregard public safety as well as community-oriented ordinances intended to keep Isla Vista safe. 

This will also be the first Deltopia and large festival-style event since new ordinances passed by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in December 2023. These ordinances followed last year’s Deltopia event which witnessed several parties hosted by third-party services, such as the Red Jooce Project, which was later sued by an Isla Vista property owner. Intended to prevent “outdoor festivals” (defined as gatherings with amplified sound and more than 250 attendees), these ordinances also prohibit holding an outdoor event that sells alcohol. Those found in violation will be subject to citations or arrests.

About 40 community members attended the town hall, which offered opportunities for questions directed at the panelists, moderated by UCSB Political Science and Chicano Studies lecturer and Associated Students Executive Director Marisela Márquez. 

Several audience members raised concerns that suspending the program would do little to discourage event participation and would adversely injure community and police relations. Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD) Director Olivia Craig noted during the town hall that in 2023, the I.V. Foot Patrol increased citations 300 percent and made 23 arrests as compared to 2022 which totaled four arrests. In response, Lt. TeSlaa explained that Deltopia has become increasingly dangerous.

“It’s such a drain on emergency medical services over the last couple of years that it’s our position that participation in the event is inherently against the ethos of community,” TeSlaa said. “Suspending Restorative Justice is a small incremental step before we try other things.… [Deltopia] has rapidly become out of control as a whole.”

During the 24-hour period, which law enforcement perceives as peak festival hours, citations will be referred straight to the county court system, which often amounts to several hundreds of dollars in penalties. The Sheriff’s Office and City of Goleta have announced additional measures intended to curtail reckless and illegal behavior akin to 2023, including reinstating I.V.’s parking permit program, which will provide two street parking permits to each Isla Vista residence on Friday, March 29. This program was instituted several years ago and, according to the City of Goleta, has been “successful in dissuading partygoers from parking in the Goleta neighborhoods closest to Isla Vista and easing the impacts felt by residents.” 

Additionally, the Goleta Police Department announced they will be holding a DUI checkpoint at an unidentified location in Goleta from 6 p.m on Saturday night until  2 a.m. Sunday as the Sheriff’s Office has done in years past.

One audience member asked if law enforcement during future years of Deltopia would come to reflect the lockdowns during Halloween. 

“I think that what we saw this year with Deltopia is the equivalent of what would’ve been a moderate to large-size Halloween 10 years ago,” said TeSlaa. “As a result of that, we are responding with increased presence.”

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