Thousands of students came to Shell Beach in 2012 for the cultural holiday turned beach-binge-drinking bonanza known as Cesar Chavez Day. The party left behind enough trash to fill nine Ford pickup trucks and resulted in three arrests and two hospitalizations, according to The San Luis Obispo Tribune.
But changes in the holiday’s timing and increased police presence will likely influence the party’s scope this year.
Instead of students having the day off from school during a Friday in spring quarter, Cal Poly will observe it on Monday, April 1 — one day after Easter and directly before spring quarter begins on April 2.
“Even if you’re not doing anything on Easter, you could turn Monday into your travel day back to SLO,” said agribusiness junior Jason Colombini, who is leading an effort to clean up the beach on Cesar Chavez Day as part of his role as Interfraternity Council president. “So that could completely change this dynamic.”
What could also change the dynamic is a more organized response from the Pismo Beach Police Department than there has been in the past. Officers present in 2012 mostly observed the day’s partying from nearby cliffs, but Pismo Police Cmdr. Jake Miller said that will not be the case this year.
Pismo Beach police are planning a “zero-tolerance” policy for Cesar Chavez Day 2013 — the result of what they say has been two years of illegal partying on a strip of Shell Beach approximately nine miles away from Cal Poly in the city of Pismo Beach.
Alcohol is prohibited on the beach in the city, so police will inspect partygoers as they arrive, Miller said.
“It caught us a little by surprise,” Miller said about the first year of partying in 2011. “We were a little more prepared for it last year because we didn’t know if it was just a one-year deal but then we realized, ‘OK this isn’t going to be just one year.’”
Pismo Beach police helped shut down SLOtopia in 2009, a beach party that attempted to rival the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Flotopia.
Thousands of students were expected to come for SLOtopia, but when the city and Cal Poly told the event’s organizer about more than $1,000 in possible fines, a STOP SLOTOPIA Facebook page emerged and few came to the beach.
This year, authorities from Pismo Beach and neighboring cities will station themselves at the two entrances to the beach on Cesar Chavez Day, Miller said. They’ll be watching for illegal activity — officers will search coolers and bags for alcohol if they have “reasonable cause” to believe something illegal is inside.
Though police believe focusing their efforts where students went last year will stop partiers who show up, Miller said police can easily mobilize and monitor different stretches of beach if it’s needed.
Students could move to nearby Avila Beach, Miller said, though they would find similar alcohol laws there.
Some overflow partiers went to Avila in 2012, but biomedical engineering junior Sylvia Jarzynski made it to Shell Beach with her friends and described the 3,000-person crowd as “pretty crazy.”
“One of the interesting things was if you were down on the beach and you looked up, you could see 10 cops just standing at the top of the cliffs,” she said. “They just looked so helpless, they didn’t know what to do.”
Students at this past year’s Cesar Chavez Day beach celebration spent the day dancing, tanning and playing football, Frisbee and drinking games, Jarzynski said.
The festivities even drew Ray Daily, founder of The College Culture, a website that creates mini-documentaries about the “other side of college.” Daily, a sophomore at Mira Costa Community College in San Diego, said his friends told him if there was any weekend to visit Cal Poly, it would be Cesar Chavez Day.
After also filming at UC Santa Barbara, University of Colorado, Boulder and the University of Arizona, Daily said Cal Poly’s party was the most “original” he’d ever seen.
“It was crazy,” Daily said, “the amount of people that were on the beach and the controlled environment at the same time. It was relaxed and full of people, it wasn’t out-of-control. It was just people having a good time.”
But the festivities brought more than just a good time to the area. There was police activity — Daily said he saw students pouring out beer after officers discovered kegs buried in the sand — and an environmental impact that sparked controversy in the small community.
In the hours after students left the beach, the Pismo Beach employees picked up 18 to 20 cubic yards of trash in 2012, according to The Tribune. A city public works manager told the newspaper it cost nearly $8,000 in equipment and labor costs to clean up the mess.
In addition to what the city picked up, some Cal Poly students worked throughout the day to minimize the amount of trash left on the beach. Members of the Cal Poly Surfrider Club came armed with six trash and recycle bins for Cesar Chavez Day 2012, club president and environmental engineering senior Adam Rianda said.
The bags filled up quickly, he said, and by the end of the day there was so much trash they had trouble disposing of it all.
“The environmental impact, it’s pretty big,” Rianda said. “After all, I don’t want it (the party) to be taken away from the students because it’s a blast. But it can harm the marine life, it all gets sucked up out to the ocean.”
Littering laws aside, there is also a city policy requiring visitors to receive permits for special events that bring 50 or more people to Pismo Beach.
Pismo Beach City Councilman Ed Waage wants to stop this illegal activity at the beach, but said he is glad students want to use the city’s beaches on their day off.
“We have ordinances against organized activities, so it’s a matter of breaking the law,” Waage said. “So I guess I’m just concerned that people can enjoy our beaches, but not have large numbers and get crazy with drinking and such.”