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Authorities seek to discourage Halloween problems in Isla Vista

Halloween will be the first big test for the UC Santa Barbara community since the tragic shooting in Isla Vista, Calif., last May. A social media campaign targeted 120 campuses across California and the West this fall as UCSB, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department and other agencies tried to get the word out to the party-minded to stay away from Isla Vista this Halloween -- or face consequences if there's trouble.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The warning is blunt: “Safety is a community effort. Look out for each other. And if you’re from out of town looking for trouble, you’re better off staying away.”

That message and others were sent to student affairs offices at 120 campuses across California and the West as UC Santa Barbara and local law enforcement try to get word out to the party-minded to stay away from Isla Vista this Halloween — or face consequences if there’s trouble.

“Halloween 2014 is going to be nothing like years’ past guys. Nothing,” said a post on the Keep Isla Vista Safe Facebook page, accompanied by the hashtags #turnupfornothing and #ivhalloween. The page features photos of college-age men and women in Halloween costumes — like a dejected Wonder Woman holding a letter board that reads: “Lost my phone, lost my friends, lost my ride.”

By asking colleges to relay the messages and links to their student bodies, the social media campaign hopes to prevent the violence and arrests that have marred recent “unsanctioned events” and regular weekend partying in the seaside town where many UC and Santa Barbara City College students live and play.

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In February, a Santa Barbara City College student was sexually assaulted in Isla Vista by a man she reportedly met at a party. In April, a riot broke out during the Deltopia spring break party — 225 people were booked and jailed, 249 were cited, and 48 people received medical attention.

Then in May, Elliot Rodger killed six UCSB students and himself in a stabbing and shooting rampage that left the community grief-stricken and unnerved, though it wasn’t linked to a specific event or party.

That tragedy sparked an effort by students, longtime residents and university and Santa Barbara County officials to “rebuild” Isla Vista. Task forces, town hall meetings, neighborhood groups and student projects have been created or strengthened in the last six months to try to make the town safer — and to nurture a sense of community that most agree has been all but lost.

“This is our moment,” said Cameron Schunk, a fourth-year psychology and political science major and member of Students for a Safer Isla Vista. “This is a painful time for Isla Vista, and there’s an urgency to what we’re trying to do. We have to change the culture. It’s not about going to crazy parties and getting arrested. We have to create a culture of acceptance and respect.”

Halloween will be the first test of that newfound commitment. Because the holiday falls on a Friday, three days of partying is expected on Del Playa Drive, a cliffside street near campus that is lined with houses and apartment buildings.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department will bring in extra deputies, security cameras and floodlights, and the UCSB Police Department plans to borrow about 75 officers from other campuses. The total law enforcement price tag is expected to approach $410,000, with UCSB contributing nearly 50% of the cost.

“After the year we’ve had, we’re strategizing and doing everything we can to work together to make this school year a safe one,” said Kelly Hoover, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department.

Street parking will be prohibited, and nearby Goleta will bar nonresidents from parking in neighborhoods close to Isla Vista from Friday through Sunday. Anyone who plays live or recorded music that can be heard from outside could be fined $500.

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The Santa Barbara County district attorney’s office pledges to prosecute accused Halloween offenders swiftly, and will have a senior deputy district attorney in Isla Vista on Friday night to assist deputies and answer any questions, Dist. Atty. Joyce Dudley said.

Dudley started a group called Isla Vista Safe, — made up of public safety and campus officials, students and community organizations — even before the May rampage because she was concerned about the surge in violence.

“We knew the next predictable event was Halloween, and we began thinking about how we could make it specifically safer … so that on Oct. 31, things would be better,” Dudley said.

Public service announcements warning that “one moment can change your life” are running on local TV and radio stations, including a spot featuring Bob Weiss, the father of UCSB student Veronika Weiss, who was fatally shot outside a sorority house in the May rampage.

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Other campuses will be notified if any of their students are cited or arrested, as will the parents. Overnight visitors will be barred from staying in UCSB housing and from parking on campus over the weekend.

And the California Highway Patrol will set up a DUI checkpoint near Isla Vista.

Those steps are being taken even though last Halloween was relatively calm.

Of the 48 medical calls, 42 people were tranferred to hospitals, many for alcohol poisoning, and 12,000 to 15,000 people jammed Isla Vista’s streets and beaches on the busiest night, Hoover said.

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The social media campaign is a “fight fire with fire” approach, since many people learn about the parties through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“A large percentage are from out of the area,” Hoover said. “This is not to say locals aren’t to blame at all. They invite people from out of the area to come, social media plays a role, and there’s students as well who are being arrested. We’re encouraging the students to not invite out-of-towners and people they don’t know to come.”

To give students an alternative to Isla Vista, the campus will host a concert from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Halloween night that will require a student ID for admittance.

Chancellor Henry T. Yang said the measures were part of a larger ongoing effort that began in August.

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“It’s not just Halloween, but it’s been gradually gearing up,” Yang said. “This is not something where you can say, ‘I’m going to fix it’ and it’s fixed.”

Longtime Isla Vista resident Pegeen Soutar, who graduated from UCSB in the early 1980s and stayed, remembers when the Halloween festival featured costume contests, houses with themed decorations and a nighttime trip to the I.V. Theater to watch “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

“Officials have been trying to get I.V. Halloween under control probably since 1991. The most challenging Halloweens are on Friday and Saturday nights. We’re all so happy when a leap year leaps over one of those days,” she said. “I’m also pretty happy when it rains early in the day and helps to discourage the out-of-town crowds from coming.”

amanda.covarrubias@latimes.com

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Twitter: @amcovarrubias


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