|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
San Luis Obispo Tribune 2-25-04
SLO can learn lessons from other party cities
SAN LUIS OBISPO - For years, Palm Springs was party central for spring breakers.
Young men ripped off young women's bikini tops. College students rocked public buses stopped at traffic signals. Store windows were broken and tear gas sprayed.
Today, the desert city is known more for its upscale resorts than drunken debauchery. What brought about the change?
"The city created the Harvest and Wildflower Festival," said Julie Baumer, former Palm Springs director of marketing and tourism. "It was a geeky response to college students. We had bales of hay, spring bouquets of flowers hanging from lamp posts, corny things that spring breakers didn't relate to."
These kinds of changes to spring break discouraged young people from attending, breaking the cycle.
While a Harvest and Wildflower Festival may not be in San Luis Obispo's future, there are lessons to be learned from other communities that have developed creative alternatives and tougher laws to quash underage drinking and violent behavior.
In the aftermath of Saturday's riot, city officials and event organizers are grappling with what to do about Mardi Gras.
In 2002, the city denied Mardi Gras organizers a parade permit, prompting a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU argued the city's special events policy violated free speech, and a federal court sided with organizers.
The ruling prevents the city from banning the annual event, but the city could use other tactics. Years ago, San Luis Obispo established Farmers Market as an answer to late-night cruising down Higuera Street.
The city could also take a cue from Cal Poly.
In 1990, Cal Poly President Warren Baker canceled the campus' Poly Royal celebration - a 58-year tradition - after some 1,500 revelers clashed with police for two nights in April. It's a similar decision Mardi Gras organizers now face in light of last weekend's riot.
"It was clear that the party atmosphere off the campus and the visitors it was attracting were distracting from the purpose of Poly Royal," Baker said Monday.
A toned-down version of the annual spring showcase, called Open House, debuted in 1994 and has been held every April since without large-scale disturbances. In 2001, the university celebrated its centennial anniversary and brought back the Poly Royal name to its April festivities, calling the celebration "Open House Presents Poly Royal."
A parade was added the following year, which brought with it more arrests but not the level of unrest its predecessor had.
In Palm Springs, two years of wildflowers and subdued music were all it took to drive students to other spring break destinations, said Baumer, now deputy city manager for nearby Cathedral City. Palm Springs no longer hosts the festival.
The unruly behavior also cost the city money. Each year, Palm Springs spent about $450,000 to control the crowds.
"From a purely event management point of view, spring break did not work," Baumer said. "It was too dangerous and too confined. Palm Springs had become labeled as a bikini-clad, party-throwing city, and it didn't have any appeal to any other demographic. Therefore, it was important not to have that name associated with it throughout the year."
At Lake Havasu, a popular Arizona spring break spot on the California border, college kids have adopted a catch phrase: "Go to Havasu on vacation, leave on probation," said city spokesman Charlie Cassens.
If students engage in disorderly conduct, they are arrested and taken to jail. They cannot leave the area until they see a judge, he said.
"That's probably the farthest we've gone in discouraging that kind of behavior," Cassens said.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla., nicknamed "Liquordale," had to clean up its image, too.
In the mid- to late-1980s, hordes of college students flocked there for wild parties and hot-body contests.
At its peak in 1985, spring break attracted about 400,000 students. Now, the city sees around 10,000.
Fewer college students are coming, but the city's business has tripled, said Mayor Jim Naugle. Fort Lauderdale is now catering to upscale tourists from around the world with its annual spring Air and Sea Show and a fall boat show.
In addition, the city banned open containers in public.
"The students never forgave us and stopped coming," Naugle said.
The city also requires establishments that attract large crowds to pick up the tab for increased police enforcement.
"The taxpayers wouldn't want to have to pay all that overtime," Naugle said. "They want police officers keeping law and order in other parts of the city, not just at the bars."
The city built a convention center and began going after European, South American and Canadian tourists.
"Now we have three times the business and none of the headaches," he said.
In Isla Vista, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department's zero-tolerance approach is beginning to yield results in the community, renowned for its wild Halloween parties, said Sgt. Mark Vellekamp.
In the mid-'90s, the county instituted several ordinances, including those that limit the number of people allowed at a residence, the type of activity that residents can engage in, and how loud music can be played, he said.
Students also know that if they break the rules they will be cited or arrested. As well, the department is educating local business owners not to sell alcohol to students under 21 years of age. The sheriff also added increased enforcement during what he called the fall offensive.
"The sheriff just said enough was enough," Vellekamp said.
"He came up with a five-year plan of how to bring the festivities
to a controllable level."
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