Deltopia makes a comeback with massive crowds, numerous arrests
Deltopia weekend returned in full force this year, as an estimated crowd of 15,000 descended on the streets of Isla Vista for the annual unsanctioned street festival.
April 13, 2023 at 10:40 pm
The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office (SBSO) observed that “crowds were largest on Saturday and significantly higher than last year’s event” in its 2023 Deltopia Weekend Recap. Out-of-towners also flocked to the area, partly due to the promotion of Deltopia through groups like Poppin, with representation from students at UCLA, UC Davis, USC and UC Berkeley.
Arrests and citations climb to 2014 levels
SBSO and the California Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control made 23 arrests and 151 citations over the weekend, a level not seen since the mid-2010s, according to figures provided by I.V. Foot Patrol Lieutenant Garrett TeSlaa.
“Deltopia is unfortunately back as an event,” TeSlaa said in an April 11 briefing to the I.V. Community Services District (IVCSD). “This was a significant strain on emergency services and was a significant strain on the city of Goleta and on the county.”
Carolyn Li / Daily Nexus
IVCSD Director Spencer Brandt said he was “very concerned” by the 300% increase in citations handed out by the Sheriff’s Office, calling it a “step backward” for community safety.
“We have to shift away from their strategy of doing really heavy enforcement of these minor crimes. It’s not how UCSB does it when they have disciplinary issues on campus in the residence halls,” Brandt said. “They have a much more restorative approach than what we see with the citations that inherently involves the court system, and it’s just not appropriate.”
Courtesy of Brandon Doherty
SBSO issued 106 citations in total, mostly for open container or minor in possession violations. For 19 of those citations, people were offered the option to participate in a restorative justice program to waive the offense from their permanent record.
Alcohol Beverage Control also policed the event, writing six citations on Friday and an additional 40 citations on Saturday.
Last year, SBSO and its partner agencies made four arrests and 34 citations during Deltopia.
Emergency response receives overwhelming medical calls
The weekend’s events overwhelmed all first responder agencies. 60 medical calls were made on Saturday, twice as many as the entire weekend of Deltopia 2022. Emergency personnel made 33 medical transports, three times more than last year.
“Sometimes we were so busy that we were stuffing two people into one ambulance,” TeSlaa said at the April 11 meeting.
Carolyn Li / Daily Nexus
First responders used naloxone to save two people from overdose on Saturday, according to preliminary statistics from the Sheriff’s Office. One person was hospitalized and remains in critical condition as a direct result of Deltopia activity, TeSlaa said.
Three people fell from balconies, with two cases requiring hospitalization, according to TeSlaa. No cliff falls were reported.
SBSO reported two felonious assaults on law enforcement officers, six people taken into protective custody for public intoxication, four people arrested for fighting in public, one juvenile arrested for public fighting and one burglary. No arrests were made relating to deadly weapons.
In the April 11 briefing, TeSlaa noted that two assaults took place, one where “a male assaulted a female directly in front of my deputies,” and another where a Bay Area resident was assaulted by presumably local residents in downtown Isla Vista for “talking to someone’s girlfriend.”
Deltopia activity spills into neighboring communities
Roads were closed to vehicle traffic south of Trigo Road, including along Sabado Tarde Road at Camino Corto, Del Playa Drive at Camino Corto, and Trigo Road at El Embarcadero, Camino Pescadero and at Camino Del Sur.
Law enforcement installed traffic checkpoints at Los Carneros Road exiting I.V., and screened 435 of 1,600 passing cars. SBSO made two arrests at the checkpoint on DUI charges.
Carolyn Li / Daily Nexus
TeSlaa described the impacts of the heavy crowds on the neighboring city of Goleta. The Camino Real Marketplace and Target parking lots were packed with cars and people “tailgating, littering, drinking openly, getting into confrontations,” he said.
Parking around Girsh Park was restricted to residents-only but the park itself was “overrun” by out-of-towners using the park, according to TeSlaa.
SBSO imposed an “Outdoor Festival Ordinance” from Friday, April 6 to Sunday, April 9 in Isla Vista, restricting loud music between 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.
With the Festival Ordinance law up for renewal, TeSlaa said SBSO will be seeking to extend the ordinance into the daytime, as well as the currently enforced hours of 6 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Community, law enforcement weigh in on policing
In response to the high turnout, TeSlaa stated that SBSO will look to increase police and fire department presence in I.V. for future Deltopia Weekends.
IVCSD Director Olivia Craig, a second-year UCSB student majoring in environmental studies, advocated against heightening police presence, expressing concerns about police brutality and inequities faced by marginalized groups and racial minorities.
Craig said she personally witnessed an instance of what she considered “brutal police behavior” during Deltopia weekend, when two police officers tackled a man to the curb while making an arrest.
“He was being handcuffed by two police officers, and he was wiggling around a little bit,” Craig said. “They managed to get him handcuffed and on the curb, and after he was sitting on the curb, they tackled him to the ground, which I would consider unnecessary use of force.”
Brandt shared similar concerns, saying that he observed an instance of a group of law enforcement intimidating a party-goer.
“I think that their approach of going into crowds, pulling people, often young women, out of crowds, surrounding them with a large number of male officers, is not conducive to building trust in the community,” Brandt said. “It makes people afraid. It makes them fear law enforcement. It makes them feel violated.”
Craig emphasized her desire to prioritize community safety by providing resources such as. I.V. safety stations, public bathrooms, NARCAN kits and alternative events like IVCSD’s Spring Festival. She also encouraged upstaffing from Santa Barbara County Fire Department and Emergency Medical Technicians.
“Trying to shut down the partying, moving the noise ordinance up, I don’t think is something that’s going to be helpful because those are just things that aggravate students and make them almost want to push back more,” Craig said. “Focusing on keeping it local, keeping it as safe as possible because people are going to be using drugs and alcohol is the best approach that we can have going forward, both for student health and safety.”
Brandt advocated for a reduction in punitive measures, urging for law enforcement to utilize their discretion when handling minor crimes and prioritize a restorative justice approach.
“Maybe there was a time and place for that sort of response in the wake of a riot, in the wake of a mass shooting,” Brandt said, referencing the 2014 Deltopia riots. “Our community’s in a much different place than we were.”
PoppinUCSB commercializes local parties
A new trend of the Deltopia festivities this year was paid parties facilitated by UC Santa Barbara Poppin, a tech startup app that markets and supports social events. Some community members and local leaders decried their participation in Deltopia as commercialization of a local event, but Poppin sees their role as a provider of safe, higher-quality accessible events.
Poppin sold tickets for four parties on Del Playa Drive — marketed as a ‘Deltopia Music Festival’ — during Deltopia, which cost between $15 and $25 depending on the time the buyer purchased, according to the Poppin co-founder, who requested anonymity citing safety concerns. After paying the fee, buyers could attend all four parties.
Carolyn Li / Daily Nexus
TeSlaa said during the April 11 IVCSD meeting that SBSO is currently investigating the role that Poppin — which has hubs on other college campuses and was originally founded at UCLA — played in bringing an influx of outsiders into I.V. for the event.
“It’s something we were enforcing and addressing throughout the weeks coming up to Deltopia and something that we’ll be looking at how to approach more creatively in the future,” TeSlaa said.
But according to the co-founder, “upwards of 90% of our ticket buyers are from I.V. and a great majority are from UCSB.”
“If there’s evidence that there’s a difference, a significant difference in people who come from out of town, it’s pretty unlikely that we moved the needle to make that difference,” he said.
Poppin also says that as a marketing and promotion company, they weren’t the actual hosts of any Deltopia functions.
“We weren’t actually hosting any parties. We partnered with a lot of local hosts, like Red Jooce, Routine IV, Target House and DMT, and they were the ones that host the parties. We basically just promoted them, made sure that they were safe, helped them get locations, and basically just made sure everything ran as smoothly as possible,” said a UCSB Poppin student representative, who declined to be named for privacy concerns.
Brandt said this argument is made in “bad faith,” and organizations like Poppin are breaking the law by hosting a music festival event and engaging in business activity on residential properties.
“This is the same bad faith argument that’s used by a variety of predatory tech companies, that they are just a platform and that they are not involved in the activities, and it’s really an attempt to shield themselves from legal liability,” he said. “I don’t think that that argument would stand up in court. I would love to see that tested in court because I think that, again, what they are doing is very harmful to our community. They’re exploiting the people who live here and it’s wrong.”
TeSlaa said that officers shut down a handful of “dangerous” parties during Deltopia, many of which were ticketed events, once they saw criminal violations.
“We’re looking at all options for enforcement to squash these illegal paid parties that are occurring where people are hosting events, charging money using their landlord’s property to gain a profit from this without proper permits, without proper zoning,” he said.
In a statement to the Nexus, the co-founder said that Poppin doesn’t host events in I.V. as a company, and those who do host events are individuals or party groups who utilize the ticketing platform, and thus, those individuals bear liability for the event.
“I can’t speak directly on the hosts’ behalf, but I will say that from what I’ve heard, they do not pay to rent out residential properties. They pay individuals who live in the house to help organize and facilitate an event that is independent of the property,” the statement read. “Those who buy tickets are paying for an entertainment service essentially, not for access to a private, residential property. Any ‘business’ that occurs happens before the event, when attendees purchase tickets to be added to a guest-list; no business occurs directly at residential properties.”
Some community members also voiced discomfort with Poppin’s commercial presence on Deltopia, which has seen consistent community efforts since 2014 to “Keep it Safe, Keep it Local.” But the co-founder argued that parties with fees have historically existed and will continue to exist in I.V., and party-goers aren’t forced to attend Poppin parties.
“Parties have cost money in I.V. for a long time. But, doing something this scale with the amount of followers that we have, you get to a point where no matter what, there’s going to be a lot of criticism,” he said.
Carolyn Li / Daily Nexus
Fifth-year political science major Cody Nunn said he feels college students are often targeted and companies like this “make us pay to exist in our own space.”
“I feel pretty tired of people seeing a place that for most of us is home and community just as a spot to kind of cater to students and pander for the sake of getting money,” he said.
“I think that the ever-increasing police presence and also the commodification of social life in I.V. go hand in hand. I think that so long as the police restrict what we’re allowed to do in our own place, the only legitimate means to engage with our community will be through paying private entities. And so I think that those two issues aren’t entirely separate,” Nunn continued.
The co-founder said that traditional Deltopia parties are traditionally hosted by predominantly white institutions like Greek life, and Poppin parties are open to all willing to pay. In addition, the Red Jooce party offered free admission to all Black UCSB students, per their instagram post.
“Historically, I would say that Deltopia isn’t necessarily a very inclusive event, overall,” he said. “Particularly the BIPOC community at UCSB doesn’t usually have the same accessibility to a lot of the fun going on on Deltopia. So making an option for those people, so that they’re not just kind of wandering around all day looking for something to do, I think that was a big part of it.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the April 13, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.