If ever there was a â€œdamned if you do, damned if you donâ€™tâ€? issue, itâ€™s the Mardi Gras Weekend problem. Property gets damaged or someone gets hurt or killed, and everyone wonders, â€œHow could they have let it happen?â€? On the other hand, take proven strong measures to stop being a statewide destination for drunken â€œparty tourists,â€? and some (like the New Times) say, â€œThey have gone too far.â€? What to do?
Well, when you are they and are responsible for the outcome, halfway measures are not enough.
In the aftermath of the 2004 Mardi Gras riot â€” when it was crystal clear that we had a big and growing problem â€” our staff and some Council members visited and learned from the experiences of other cities with similar â€œweekend party destinationâ€? problems (i.e., Chico, Palm Springs). With this information the Council adopted and funded a Mardi Gras strategy for 2005. Letâ€™s look at the results.
Mardi Gras Weekend 2004
â€¢ Huge, drunken crowds and a riot on Saturday night that required an emergency mutual aid call to dozens of agencies throughout the state.
â€¢ More mob behavior on â€œFat Tuesday,â€? including a homemade bomb thrown at a police officer (the thrower is now in jail).
â€¢ 195 arrests.
â€¢ Rocks and bottles thrown at police officers, horses, and just about everything else.
â€¢ A dozen officers injured, and an unknown number of partier injuries.
â€¢ Emergency rooms clogged at local hospitals with injured or alcohol-poisoned partiers.
â€¢ Significant property damage, including the trashing of a CHP vehicle.
â€¢ National news coverage depicting SLO as a Mardi Gras riot town.
â€¢ Several complaints and â€œbad feelingsâ€? about the police operation.
Mardi Gras Weekend 2005
â€¢ Significantly smaller and friendlier crowds and no riot.
â€¢ A â€œFat Tuesdayâ€? so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
â€¢ 82 arrests, down 58 percent from 2004.
â€¢ Only a tiny number of objects thrown (and no homemade bombs).
â€¢ One minor injury to a police officer, no reported injuries to the public, and quiet emergency rooms.
â€¢ Very minor property damage.
â€¢ No news coverage outside the area.
â€¢ Zero formal complaints and mostly praise for the police officers.
In achieving this outcome, was anyoneâ€™s free speech or assembly rights violated? No. Was â€œthe right to partyâ€? thwarted? Only if someone was confusing the right to party with the right to be drunk and out-of-control in public. Was the operation expensive? It sure was (approaching $500,000). However, we had tinkered around the edges of this issue for over 10 years, and each year the violence and the cost, both public and private, just grew larger. In 2005, we allocated enough resources to take a big step forward in ending our attraction as a Mardi Gras destination. We accomplished our goal, and hopefully over the next two to three years we can begin winding down.
In a more perfect world, we could have a fun-filled, peaceful Mardi Gras parade and would not have to divert hundreds of thousands of dollars from needed core services and public works maintenance (my favorite use for the money). However, the world isnâ€™t perfect, and the safety of our community must be our top priority. For this reason, the City Council was united in providing clear direction and sufficient resources to bring an end to our reputation as a Mardi Gras weekend destination.
I am most pleased with the outstanding leadership of Police Chief Deb Linden and the patience and dedication of our police officers. I also wish to thank Cal Poly, Cuesta College, the California Highway Patrol, and the dozens of other police agencies for helping us out.
Student leadership is also to be commended for assisting us in our efforts to communicate with the student population.
Bottom line: Our success was due to a community effort, and not only a city effort.
All this cooperation proves what a marvelous city we have and that being mayor of San Luis Obispo is the best elected job in California. Therefore, I can sleep â€” and ski â€” with a clear conscience and with the knowledge that our city and its citizens are safe and in good hands!
Tell Mayor Dave whatâ€™s on your mind at firstname.lastname@example.org.