Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween Monster Parties Put Officials on Alert

Local law enforcement officials in Santa Barbara County are gearing up for the annual Halloween bash in Isla Vista, the village of thousands of college students that abuts UC Santa Barbara.

I moved to Santa Barbara in 1992 to start grad school in political science at the university. My wife and I were warned about how rowdy Isla Vista could be, and that for an older graduate student it might be better to visit "IV" for its parties on weekends, rather than live there full time.

Isla Vista gained antiwar notoriety in 1970 when after a speech by William Kunstler, the prominent '60s-era left-wing defense attorney,
an antiwar riot erupted that ended with the burning of the local Bank of America branch.

Isla Vista's 1992 Halloween party was one of the biggest on record, and the following year the university clamped down to prevent a similar occurence. The parties get ten of thousands of revellers, especially when Halloween falls on a weekend. Here's what the L.A. Times story is saying about this year's gig:

It's a rite of autumn here.

The pumpkins have been carved, the costumes have been assembled, and the warnings about predatory, out-of-town criminals have been sounded.

A couple of hundred officers are honing their crowd-control tactics. Search-and-rescue specialists are sharpening their techniques for maneuvering through mobs to retrieve fallen revelers.

Halloween comes again to Isla Vista.

The annual bash, which starts in earnest this weekend and lasts through Tuesday night, has been the stuff of legend, inspiring admiring blurbs in such party-hearty periodicals as Playboy. Toned down over the years, it also has inspired grand jury investigations and crackdowns by local police and officials at UC Santa Barbara.

This year more than 200 officers on foot and on horseback will patrol the narrow streets of this community crammed with students near the seaside campus. Undercover state alcohol inspectors will troll parties for people serving minors. A booking center will be established outside a university building in the center of town; last year, there were 273 arrests for burglary, assault, vandalism and other crimes, not to mention public intoxication.

With three Nobel laureates on the faculty, the university has emerged as a top-tier research center. Henry T. Yang, the chancellor, and other top UC Santa Barbara officials routinely drop in on the colorful celebration, though it's heavy on the flesh tones and considerably more raucous than, say, a prize presentation in Stockholm.

Early Friday evening, preparations were in full swing. Jason Kline, 21, a Santa Barbara City College student, was helping a friend roll a keg of German beer on a skateboard from a liquor store to the house he shares with half a dozen other students. "

We've got like 20 people staying with us this weekend from as far as Hawaii," said Kline, an Oahu native. "We're all looking forward to seeing the girls in their skimpy outfits and all that good stuff."

As many as 30,000 people are expected to jam the streets, checking out the scene and each other under the bright lights erected by sheriff's deputies. To get in, they'll have to pass through barricades and surrender anything that can be used as a weapon — skateboards, Jedi light sabers, rubber knives, witches' brooms, plastic pitchforks."

One year we had a guy come as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre," said Sheriff's Lt. Sol Linver, head of the 24-member Isla Vista Foot Patrol. "We took away his chain saw."
When my first son was born, my wife and I moved over to the university's family student housing complex, which was across the street from Isla Vista's downtown. There were a couple of good Mexican restaurants in town, and a couple of coffee houses too. But I did most of my hard partying in earlier years, and thus missed out on all the famous local beer gigs. Today, people often rib me for getting my Ph.D. from one of the country's top party schools!

Apparently, Madison, Wisconsin, gets an even bigger annual Halloween bash, with an expected 100,000 party-goers this weekend, as
this Boston Globe story points out.

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