The city of San Luis Obispo is bracing itself for Mardi Gras weekend by sending a message to Cal Poly students very similar to the one sent to UCSB students before Halloween 2003: the party is over.
The city has created a website, www.MardiGrasSLO.com, discouraging out of town visitors from coming into San Luis Obispo for the reputedly out-of-control Mardi Gras party scene. The website tells SLO residents to stay home, take the weekend off, and not invite friends to visit. Local law enforcement agencies are increasing their presence and calling on other agencies from across the state to aid in their effort. SLO Police Dept. spokesman Rob Bryn said there will be a total of around 400 officers, including officers from the California Highway Patrol, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept., SLO County Sheriff’s Dept. and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Dept.
“We’re expecting to have a lot of out-of-towners, and we’re disappointed that they’re coming to this non-event,” Bryn said. “This year we’ll be working in individual teams to disperse medium-sized crowds before they get to be 5,000 people.”
Bryn said the officers’ role this weekend will be largely dependent on the attitude of the crowd.
“If they follow the officers’ instructions to disperse and don’t become overly rowdy, there won’t be any problem,” he said.
In addition to the increased presence of law enforcement, there will also be sobriety checkpoints throughout the city. The fines will be tripled for alcohol-related violations including public intoxication, driving under the influence, public urination, possession of an open container and minor in possession of alcohol.
The city’s effort to diffuse the party before it starts is in response to the events of last year’s Mardi Gras celebration, which culminated in a riot when officers dispersed a crowd of nearly 5,000 revelers at the Mustang Village apartment complex on California Street. Partygoers threw bottles, rocks, concrete pipes and other objects at police officers, who responded by firing non-lethal pepperballs and tear gas at the rioters.
Of the 130 people arrested that night, at least four were UCSB students. According to www.MardiGrasSLO.com, the costs associated with law enforcement for Mardi Gras weekend last year are estimated to be around $500,000. Bryn said officers will be working 18-hour shifts for six days in a row in order to prevent that situation from happening again.
“As far as we’re concerned, these alcohol-fueled events — which happen nationwide, not just at Cal Poly or UCSB — they’re not like the World Trade Organization events where it’s a political message,” Bryn said. “I know they’re fighting for their right to party and whatnot, but it can seriously affect the university in terms of fundraising, recruiting and hiring.”
Although the campaign to stop the party is primarily an effort of the city of San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly is working closely with city officials to promote the message.
“We support the effort to have safe, civil, responsible behavior this weekend and at all times and I expect the community will respond well,” Cal Poly spokesman Larry Kelly said. “We’ve found Cal Poly students to be responsible and well-behaved. The people making the most problems are from outside the area.”
Cal Poly president Warren Baker sent an e-mail to students Jan. 13 saying that the university supports the city’s effort to discourage celebrations and maintain the peace.
“I urge you to heed the city’s call for cessation of public Mardi Gras celebrations in the streets of San Luis Obispo and to encourage others to join with you in continuing the Cal Poly traditions of civility and respect for the law,” Warren said in the e-mail.
Bryn said the city of San Luis Obispo based its decision to use such a campaign on the success of a similar program used at Cal State Chico. However, UCSB Associate Dean of Students Carolyn Buford said UCSB’s attempt to stop the party in 2003 with its own “The Party is Over” e-mail did not go over as well.
“Our intention with the email that was sent out in 2003 was to let students know about the various safety issues that arise in that situation. The ‘party’s over’ message was for external people because they’re not welcomed here. We don’t want them coming into our community and trashing it just because they don’t care,” Buford said. “What I hear from students is that message isn’t effective.”
Although Buford said she could not guess whether SLO’s anti-party campaign would meet the same fate, she did offer advice to UCSB students who want to participate in the Mardi Gras festivities.
“What they’re doing up there is tripling the fines for any offense, which is a really big deal,” Buford said. “I just want to urge students to think about the consequences.”