Saturday, May 26 , 2018, 11:12 pm | Fair 58º


Local News

County Closing Isla Vista Beaches This Weekend to Block Floatopia

But organizers of the massive beach party say plans are in place to avoid a repeat of the arrests and destruction that marred 2009's event

It may have all the ingredients of a backyard pool party — inflatable rafts, music and refreshments — but Isla Vista’s Floatopia is far from it.

The Santa Barbara County Parks Department will close Isla Vista beaches to the public for the second straight year, April 2-3, to prevent Floatopia, an all-day beach party that has attracted more than 14,000 confirmed guests on Facebook.

“The closure is being declared to prevent a reoccurrence of the conditions that resulted from the 2009 Floatopia,” County Parks said in a news release issued Tuesday. “The Santa Barbara County Code (Section 26-11) authorizes the parks department to close any county recreation area including beaches.”

Floatopia began as an event unique to Isla Vista, where students would flock to the beach to enjoy music, drinking and floating atop the ocean blue. Before social networking caught on, Floatopia was a much more manageable event, boasting no more than 1,000 people in 2008 and a mere 300 in 2007, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

But once an event was created on Facebook in 2009 and mass invites were sent out, the allure of drunken revelry and thumping music under the sun attracted partygoers from all over the nation. Since then, many cities, including San Diego and San Luis Obispo, have tried to host their own Floatopia events, with varied success.

“Following the Floatopia event of 2009, the beaches at Isla Vista were left strewn with trash and debris, including human waste,” the county said in the news release. “This large-scale event with thousands of participants had no provision for the health and well-being of the public, including no facilities for human sanitation or refuse collection. The County of Santa Barbara, therefore, took action to close the Isla Vista beaches for a similar event in 2010.”

The Sheriff’s Department said 78 citations were handed out for alcohol-related crimes in 2009, in addition to 13 arrests and $20,000 in expenses. Thirty-three partygoers were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, heat exposure and cuts.

Chris Par, a co-creator of the “Floatopia 2011” Facebook event, acknowledged that the situation wasn’t managed properly but assured his Facebook audience things would be different this year.

“The epic rager that wasn’t properly planned, just outright unorganized and (one that) created massive amounts of environmental damage with one month planning, no team and a lack of time for necessary permits consequently shut down Floatopia forever,” Par wrote on the event page. “But we’re doing it right this year with the same planning, organization and permits as the West Beach Music Festival, which was environmentally safe and secure.”

Possibly a poor example, the creators of the music festival, Twiin Productions, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in November and indicated it could not repay “unsecured creditors.”

The county has indicated that there have been no approved permits issued for Floatopia, and that it will forbid public entry to the beach to protect public health and safety and to protect the beach from excessive waste and litter.

Scott Bull, UCSB environmental programs adviser who also works with the Santa Barbara Chapter of Surfrider, joined students and other organizations in the beach cleanup after the all-day party.

“What we saw was a shoreline 80 percent covered in trash. It looked like someone dumped a Dumpster off the cliff onto the beach,” Bull said. “The public should not have to deal with that.”

He said much of the plastic will never be degraded and will wash up shores along the coast.

“A lot of the plastic is never degraded, it’s there forever,” Bull said. “It will pose hazards to sea life, and plastic can wash up in Carpinteria or Rincon for years to come if not washed away to sea.”

Andrew Dunn, co-chair of UCSB’s Environmental Affairs Board, joined Bull, cleaning up hundreds of towels, cups, cans and rafts.

“I think that if Floatopia were to happen again like it did in ’09, it would have disastrous environmental consequences and greatly affect sea life,” he said. “If it happens here it sets a precedent for how people perceive the coast and how we take care of it.”

The county banned alcohol without a permit at Isla Vista beaches, but restricting access was something new in 2010. It caused people to migrate to the streets of Del Playa and enjoy “Streettopia,” which limited the environmental impact and public safety risk, said Drew Sugars, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department.

“It was a great risk to the general public and their property,” he said. “(Closing down beach access) was much better in terms of safety. Yes, we are keeping (all) people off the beach, but ultimately when you weigh the inconvenience versus the potential damage that was done, it’s a no-brainier.”

Sugars said he was impressed by the well-behaved and respectful students at last year’s event and hopes this year will produce something similar.

“Students were very polite and supporting of people taking care of the beach,” he said. “They went about partying on streets. It was a good weekend in terms of preserving safety and property, but also in terms of the relationship and positive exchanges. I was very impressed in how they acted last year.”

Quentin Schulman, a co-creator of the Facebook event, threatened to protest if authorities close the beach.

“Freedom is something to be protected. If they take away our rights to simply go to the beach, a protest will be held,” he wrote on the event page.

“What many younger people don’t understand is that once something is published on Facebook, it’s public record and they may be culpable for the consequences,” Sugars said. “You put something out it’s there forever, some folks are finding that out the hard way.

“Keep in mind that if someone sets themselves apart as the organizer, they become the host, and with that comes responsibility of damage.”

But Sugars didn’t rule out the possibility of a large-scale party on the beach, provided all the right steps are taken and a special event permit is issued.

“What do you do with 10,000 people on the beach drinking and partying? How do you manage that situation so it’s safe?” Isla Vista Parks and Recreation General Manager Jeff Lindgren said. “I’ve got no problem with legal-age responsible adults doing what they want to do where, but it’s a matter of how you make it safe.”

Posts on the Facebook event page indicate the date or location is not set in stone, listing April 2 and April 9 as the most likely dates. Lindgren and Sugars both expect a “Streettopia” similar to last year.

“We live in a beautiful area here and want to keep it that way,” Sugars said. “As long as people follow the rules and go through the proper channels and be responsible, it can happen. We can’t have (a party) this big without following the rules.”

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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