Just a few days after Halloween revelers in Isla Vista left Santa Barbara County with a bill approaching $1 million to police and clean up after the festivities, county supervisors took a step they hope will curtail the hangover of another IV tradition.
Floatopia, the mega-party on Isla Vista’s beaches that drew more than 12,000 people in April, was the target of an ordinance passed Tuesday that will forbid the consumption of alcohol or possession of opened containers of alcohol within the beach area.
The ordinance would create an off-limits area, with the bluffs at the end of Del Playa Drive from the 6500 to 6800 blocks to the north, a western boundary that would come between UCSB and unincorporated Isla Vista at 6885 Del Playa Drive, an eastern boundary separating Isla Vista from UCSB beginning at the 6500 block of Del Playa, and the southern boundary extending 100 yards south of the high-tide line in the Pacific Ocean.
The festivities are the lament of county officials and public safety workers because they aren’t sponsored by any one group, leaving no one to assume liability. Even though there’s no central organizer, students used Facebook to mobilize the event, which had 9,000 confirmed guests when the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department discovered it.
When the Board of Supervisors got word that a Floatopia sequel was under way for May, it voted for an emergency ordinance, averting an “immediate threat,” said Eric Axelson, deputy director of Santa Barbara County Parks.
Members of the department noticed a huge spike of debris in down-coast beaches in April, which Axelson called a “huge indicator” that it had come from the Floatopia event.
The ordinance has been in effect since, and Axelson said debris in the area has diminished.
Law enforcement officers have issued only 20 to 30 citations for open containers on the beach since the ordinance has been in place, according to Lt. Brian Olmsted of the sheriff’s department, who also serves as station commander of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol.
“Over the last six months, we’ve noticed that the overall quality of life on the beach has improved,” he said, even though there hasn’t been a decrease in people using the beach.
April’s event lasted several hours, he said, and was “a completely alcohol-driven event.” He said 78 citations were issued, 13 arrests were made and at least 33 people were treated at the hospital, including two who fell off the edge of the bluffs.
Twenty-five firefighters had to deploy five engine companies, and had to bring extra help from the North County to cover vacancies down south while those workers were working at Floatopia, said Chris Hohn, deputy fire chief with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, in addition to $20,000 in direct costs to the county.
“It had a major impact,” he said. Another concern is that the event takes place during the summer, synonymous with fire season. “Had something like this happened during the Jesusita Fire, we had over half of our engine companies out on the fire,” he said, adding that it puts citizens at risk.
Eleven members of the public spoke Tuesday, including university staff, students and Isla Vista residents, with the majority supporting the ordinance.
The county hasn’t received any permit applications for the event, but groups such as Associated Students, an on-campus student affairs organization, has expressed interested in sponsoring it in the future.
A similar ordinance adopted in Butterfly Beach has worked to abate alcohol-related incidences on the beach.
The supervisors passed Tuesday’s ordinance unanimously.
“It’s going to be safer for everyone,” 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said. “I think this will also allow the responsible party to clean up afterwards or put up a bond.”
Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray supported Tuesday’s ordinance, even though she voted against the Butterfly Beach ordinance. “About five or six years ago, it became incredibly apparent to me that the county and the taxpayers are spending way too much money” on the events in Isla Vista, including Halloween, she said. “It’s just plain wrong.”
Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, whose district contains Isla Vista, echoed Gray’s concerns about Halloween events, and said adding the ocean into the mix with heavy alcohol created “a recipe for great tragedy.”
Although Farr supported the ordinance, she said she supported a permit path for interested groups who want to assume responsibility for the festival.
— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.