For the first time in the short history of Deltopia, a jazz band led an entourage of partygoers down Del Playa Drive — a sight perhaps more common for New Orleans Mardi Gras than for Isla Vista’s usual Spring Break celebration.
Ethan Bertrand, the I.V. Community Services District (CSD) board president who led the march, said he saw the parade as a glimpse into the future of what Deltopia could be.
“It’s something that everyone appreciated, and it was all fun, all positive,” he said. “That got me thinking, ‘Hey, if there’s more planned programming, I think that’s really the first step toward a ‘sanctioned Deltopia.’”
Bertrand and other I.V. stakeholders have, for the past few years, proposed the idea of making Deltopia a sanctioned event. Rather than having the informal Spring Break celebration, they hope that someday Deltopia could be a planned festival of sorts — one with alcohol vending, booked performances or perhaps more Mardi Gras marches.
“I think that it will be really important for us moving forward instead of just trying to see Deltopia as a problem we can put a Band-Aid on from a law enforcement perspective,” said Spencer Brandt, who also serves as a director on the CSD board.
UCPD sent in approximately 70 officers into I.V. this weekend, the lowest in recent years, considering that police have had as many as 300 officers in town during Deltopia weekend.
“We need to be doing what we can to bring it out into the open and regulate it,” Brandt said.
Brandt said he envisions a Deltopia where organizers are “distributing wristbands, having music in the parks [and] selling alcohol out in an open place where it is regulated and we know who is able to purchase it.”
Bertrand said he pictures various local entities — businesses, student organizations, local nonprofits, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara City College and Santa Barbara County — coming together to organize the festival.
“There would still be major public safety infrastructure that would need to be put in place, but there would be more things for residents to do to keep safe and to have a good time,” he said.
Jay Freeman, another CSD board director, also said he hopes to see Deltopia become a sanctioned event. He said he imagines a Deltopia website that lists an event schedule and ticket vending for performances.
“I think it would drastically change who shows up, why they show up and also when they show up,” he said.
Deltopia first started out as “Floatopia” in 2003 when I.V. residents took to the beaches to celebrate Spring Break. Hundreds of partygoers would take inflatable rafts and other floatable devices into the water, hence the name.
Police estimated as many as 1,000 attendees in the early years of Floatopia.
Following complaints that the partying was having adverse effects on the environment, Santa Barbara County officials opted to close the beaches in 2010, placing barricades at the beach access points along Del Playa Drive.
In response to the closure of Floatopia, Isla Vistans planned demonstrations on Del Playa Drive that they called Deltopia in 2010.
Jonathan Abboud, who served as Associated Students President from 2013-2014, referred to 2011 as the “in-between year” when residents interchangeably called the Spring Break celebration Floatopia and Deltopia.
In the years following, the county continued to close the beaches and residents continued to bring the party to the streets, sticking with the name Deltopia.
Attendance continued to grow each year, reaching approximately 10,000 in 2012 and approximately 18,000 in 2013.
Riots broke out on the day of Deltopia 2014, when attendance maxed out at approximately 25,000. Officers arrested over 100 residents, according to police estimates.
The riots led to broad discussion of the possibility of instituting a sanctioned Deltopia. Abboud said it was a primary issue in the last quarter of his A.S. presidency.
“This was actually a very, very widely popular, talked-about issue in the few weeks following the riots,” he said. “[We thought,] let’s sanction it and make it work, you know? For the benefit for the community.”
The idea lost momentum in A.S., however, at the occurrence of the May 23, 2014, shooting, Abboud said.
While no stakeholders have officially sanctioned a Deltopia festival, UCSB student groups have developed programming around the informal celebration in efforts to increase the safety of students during the weekend.
A.S. Program Board has, for the past three years, hosted an on-campus concert called The Warm Up, and the A.S. Public Safety Commission started a volunteer program called UC Isla Vista (UCIV) in 2015 in which students act as mediators between residents and police.
Katya Armistead, the dean of the Office of Student Life, said the university has been supportive of the idea of a sanctioned Deltopia since the 2014 riots. She added that the county told university administrators that it would not approve permits for the sanctioned event because of liability issues.
“I was a part of those conversations with Jonathan [Abboud] there also, and I was in favor,” she said. “I felt like the county shut us down, so it certainly wasn’t UCSB.”
Joan Hartmann, chair of the county Board of Supervisors, said she has not heard before that the county would not approve permits. She said, however, that she is open to exploring the idea of sanctioning the Spring Break celebration.
Chris Bradley, a third-year environmental studies major who transferred from San Bernardino, said he expected police to “do a lot of cracking down” on Deltopia weekend, but he said he surprisingly had a lot of fun. A sanctioned Deltopia is an idea he is open to, he said.
“It doesn’t sound like bad thing,” he said. “This is my first year here, so I can’t really compare to anything else — like if it’d be a step up from something — but it doesn’t seem like a bad idea.”
Brenda Cruz, a third-year communication major, said she thinks having a Deltopia festival would be “a lot more fun” and “a little more safe.”
“Having it like an actual festival would be really fun [and] it’d be more controlled alcohol-wise, too, like being able to buy different kinds of alcohol, besides having just cheap stuff,” she said.
A version of this story appeared on p. 4 of the Thursday, April 13, 2017 print issue of the Daily Nexus.