The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. will barricade all beach access points in Isla Vista and on campus this Saturday in order to stop Floatopia.
The County Parks Dept. decided to prohibit access to the beach after attempts to obtain a permit to legally sponsor the event were deemed inadequate. In addition to the blockades, authorities will patrol local waters to enforce last spring’s alcohol ban, which forbids alcohol consumption on the beach and 100 yards into the ocean.
Isla Vista Foot Patrol Lt. Brian Olmstead said the county is “planning for the extreme” and said last year’s Floatopia was “literally the worst case of alcohol abuse [he’d] seen [in I.V.].”
“There will be barricades at all accesses, there will be deputies stationed at all accesses and there will be [deputies] out on the water,” Olmstead said. “The department has a marine unit and a department boat, and we’ll have deputies assigned to the boat. Boating enforcement will be out there and any boats or floats coming into the area will be under the alcohol ordinance.”
Olmstead also said there will be an increased deputy presence throughout I.V. and strict enforcement for those who find an alternate way onto the beach.
“If people gain access to the beach, they will be subject to citations and arrests,” he said.
Last year’s event resulted in 33 hospitalizations, 78 citations for alcohol-related offenses and 13 arrests for criminal behavior. Although previous Floatopias garnered about 1,000 attendees, last year saw a staggering 12,000 participants.
Is it Legal?
According to Dick Wayman of the California Coastal Conservancy, although public use of the ocean is guaranteed, laws regarding beach accesses are more complicated.
“[The] public has the right to access the beach from the water to the mean high tide,” he said. “As far as getting to the beach, the laws are much less definitive of that.”
Santa Barbara County Parks Dept. Director Daniel Hernandez said the department correctly followed legal procedures as written in Santa Barbara County Code in Chapter 26. The code includes county regulations for issues such as water pollution and public urination in beach areas, as well as public nuisance regulations.
Some community members have brought Article X of the California Constitution into question, which states that “No individual, partnership, or corporation, claiming or possessing the frontage or tidal lands of a harbor, bay, inlet, estuary, or other navigable water in this State, shall be permitted to exclude the right of way to such water whenever it is required for any public purpose…”
However, officials state that the county is not considered an “individual, partnership, or corporation” and, in accordance with California code, access from the nearest roadway to the coast must be provided “except where…it is inconsistent with public safety, military security needs, or the protection of fragile coastal resources.”
According to Olmstead, all parties involved went through the proper legal procedures.
“We’re correct,” he said. “We’ve talked to the Coastal Commission. We’ve gone through state and county codes — through County Parks — to close it. We do recognize that people should have access to the beach, but we also recognize that we have the right to abate the public nuisance or public safety hazard.”
Amber Tysor, a coastal analyst for the Coastal Commission’s Ventura location, said the organization will send an enforcement officer to contact the groups involved and ensure the legality of the situation.
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Michael Young said the County Parks informed — but did not confer with — university officials about their decision.
“The county closure includes university property below the mean tide line, which is technically state property,” Young said. “We were simply informed about the decision.”
Although attempts were made to obtain a permit to officially sponsor the event, all failed to meet the county’s standards.
“We’ve been meeting with individuals who wanted to get the event permitted, but when we received [the application] it was woefully inadequate,” Hernandez said. “There was no way we were going to approve it.”
According to 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, obtaining an event permit requires an assessment of the size, cost, amenities and sanitation provisions of the event.
“For months now, as soon as this first idea came about, we’ve been reaching out to anybody that we thought was involved to get them into the permit planning office,” Farr said. “Nobody wanted to come forward, or when somebody wanted to come forward they didn’t have an adequate plan or couldn’t fulfill the requirements.”
Farr noted that other I.V. events, such as the Pardall Carnival, have met county requirements for a public event.
“If it’s sponsored, the organizers cover that cost,” she said. “The county doesn’t have the money to cover it, and the money is taken away from other county projects.”
Last year’s event cost the county $20,000. As of press time, a projected cost for this year’s prevention efforts was unavailable.
With the beach off limits, some students are seeking an alternative for their weekend plans. A Facebook event entitled “Del Playa-Topia” appeared on Facebook yesterday in response to the county’s decision, suggesting the revelry move to the street on Saturday.
A public forum will be held tonight at 6:30 p.m. at I.V. Theater and will include representatives from the IVFP, the university, the 3rd District Office and Associated Students. Olmstead said he encourages students to come and ask questions about the access closings, but noted that Floatopia is dead.
“The beach will be closed,” Olmstead said. “There is no access. There will be no event happening.”