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Mardi Gras cost Central Coast $1.1 million

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A new report by the San Luis Obispo Police Department details the high points and lack of problems with February's riot-free Mardi Gras, and explains how the city had to pay about half of $1.1 million in planning, construction, and law enforcement costs.

In the report, Police Chief Deborah Linden warmly congratulates her department, the city, and other groups and law enforcement agencies and explained how their combined efforts help to eliminate violence, injuries, formal complaints, and property damage, and sharply decrease arrests compared to the previous year.

But the cost of success was higher than initial estimates. There was the $105,925 the city spent on planning; the $860,500 in law enforcement costs; even $26,200 to revamp the Ludwick Community Center. In all, the costs added up to $1,141,225.

However, the 35 other law enforcement agencies involved - which ranged from the Lompoc Police Department to the Union Pacific Railroad Police to the CHP - absorbed about $650,000 in operating costs. That left the city of San Luis with a bill just under a half million dollars.

Looking ahead to Mardi Gras 2006, the report says costs should begin to decrease. One reason will be a probable decrease in the 400-plus cops involved this year. SLOPD hasn't yet determined the actual number for next year, but did estimate that it could drop by 10 percent in 2006 and 50 percent the year after.

The report also answered whether the city's strong anti-Mardi Gras advertising in the weeks leading up to the infamous weekend adversely affected more traditional forms of tourism.

Looking at hotel taxes, SLOPD found that hotel taxes decreased by 10.6 percent in January, when the majority of the advertising took place, and increased in February by 3.3 percent. Mardi Gras weekend occurred on Feb. 4 and 5.

In its report, the SLOPD attributed January's tax decrease to "the high number of very rainy days we experienced."

Will the department change its advertising for next year?

"No, it will not be necessary to have the exact same campaign," the report read. "Like law enforcement deployment, messaging can 'step down' over time, but we must be cautious that we don't become overconfident prematurely and thus necessitate starting over." ³

- Abraham Hyatt

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