Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 1:17 pm | A Few Clouds 60º


County to Close Beach Access Ahead of Isla Vista’s Floatopia

Officials hope to minimize damage that marred past social events

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department will deploy extra deputies in Isla Vista this weekend to enforce the decision by Santa Barbara County Parks and UCSB to close beach access to prevent injuries and serious environmental damage as a result of a Floatopia event.

Floatopia is an unsponsored social event in Isla Vista in which attendees gather on the beach and in the ocean. From its inception in 2004 and through 2008, Floatopia never attracted more than 1,000 people at a time. That changed on April 4, 2009, when an estimated 12,000 young adults and teenagers crammed onto the beach and in the ocean. The dramatic rise in attendance is largely credited to invitations sent out on Facebook and other social networking sites on the Internet.

Such a large gathering presented a severe challenge for public safety personnel. Last year, 33 people were taken to the hospital for medical treatment; two of whom fell off the bluff, another suffered a head injury from a thrown bottle, and the rest were treated for alcohol poisoning, lacerations from broken bottles and heat exposure. The number of medical calls was eight times higher what is normal for that area, creating a challenge for local hospitals.

The sheriff’s department issued 78 citations for alcohol-related offenses and arrested 13 people for throwing bottles from the bluffs and other crimes. Those numbers would be even higher if the department had a full deployment, which it intends to have this year.

Last year’s Floatopia event had an even greater impact on the environment. Broken glass, bottles, cans, plastic, cardboard and other trash were left behind; much of it carried out to sea and along the coastline. Without restroom facilities, many attendees simply used the ocean, creating a large concentration of human waste that threatened sea life.

A gathering of this magnitude requires planning to avoid adverse impacts on public safety and the surrounding environment. With the absence of a sponsor, last year’s impromptu gathering lacked basic services that are vital to such a large event. There was no contracted security, no medical support, no plan for sanitation or refuse disposal and no liability insurance coverage. All of these critical necessities became the responsibility of Santa Barbara County.

In 2009, Santa Barbara County spent more than $20,000 to ensure public safety at an event not expected to exceed 3,000 people. That cost will be significantly higher this year if staffed for an event with more than 12,000 attendees. The sheriff’s department, County Fire, County Parks, the county Public Health Department, Emergency Medical Services and UCSB are united in protecting its citizens, private property and county property and responsibly spending taxpayer money on unsanctioned/unpermitted events, especially in these tight budgetary times.

Santa Barbara County has a system in place for responsible groups or entities to apply for an alcohol permit and/or sponsor events such as Floatopia. However, applicants must prove they have the resources and organization to stage a massive gathering without it becoming a public nuisance. This year, no legitimate group or entity applied for the necessary permits for a Floatopia event.

Recent posts on Facebook have named this Saturday — April 10 — as the date for the next Floatopia event in Isla Vista. No permits were issued this year, and the gathering appears to be on the scale of 2009’s event. As a result, County Parks and UCSB have ordered the closure of beaches that are accessible from Isla Vista and UCSB property. This is in addition to last year’s ordinance passed by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, which restricts alcohol on Isla Vista beaches.

The alcohol restriction and this weekend’s beach closure will be strictly enforced by law enforcement. Those breaking the law will be cited or arrested and taken jail.

— Drew Sugars is a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

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