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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “UC Davis, city try to rein in Picnic Day rowdiness”

     

    With Picnic Day just weeks away, officials at the University of California, Davis, and the city of Davis are trying to avert the drunken mayhem that darkened last year’s university open house.

    Their strategy relies on reaching out to students, seeking the cooperation of bars and liquor stores, and doubling fines for offenses such as public urination and having open containers.

    They also hope for wet weather April 16 that could dampen the debauchery and violence of last year’s event.

    “”Maybe just a drizzle,”” said Assistant City Manager Kelly Stachowicz, who is heading the Picnic Day effort for the city of Davis. “”We don’t want it rained out.””

    Whether students and others will respond to the measures is a key question.

    Charlie Colato, 28, student chairman of Picnic Day’s board of directors, said his goal is to reduce the binge drinking associated with the event. He called it a “”cultural shift”” that would allow Picnic Day to continue in a “”make-it-or-break-it year.””

    He’s hoping for modest gains this year, with further improvement in following years. “”No one’s saying ‘Don’t go out and drink.’ Go out and enjoy the day. Just don’t ruin someone else’s day.””

    Picnic Day is a nearly century-old event meant to showcase UC Davis’ academic programs and student activities. It offers family-friendly entertainment, including dachshund races, a battle of the marching bands and a chemistry magic show. All on campus.

    Off campus — on fraternity row and in downtown Davis – the main focus has been on partying that starts before dawn and goes into the wee hours of the next morning.

    Downtown business owners, who have to clean up vomit and broken bottles the day after, have complained about the situation for years. Many residents leave on Picnic Day or avoid downtown.

    Last year, during the 96th annual Picnic Day weekend, things came to a head. With an estimated 75,000 people in town for the event, there were 516 calls for police service and 33 arrests — more than twice the number from prior years.

    Parties swelled out of control and had to be closed. Women reported being groped by roaming mobs. Police responded to numerous brawls, and one officer was injured breaking up a fight.

    UC Davis threatened to cancel Picnic Day but decided to try to fix it first.

    University officials, along with Davis police, business representatives, student leaders and city staff, formed a working group to try to bring the event under control.

    Without the resources to hire additional officers, or the ability to tell bar owners what to do, the group had to take other approaches.

    Downtown bars enlisted

    A primary measure is a covenant, drafted by the Davis Downtown Business Association, in which businesses with liquor licenses pledge not to sell alcohol before 11 a.m. and promise to refrain from offering price promotions, which “”encourage overconsumption and intoxication.””

    In prior years, some bars opened before dawn with $1 beer specials.

    Davis Downtown Business Association director Joy Cohan said the group will publish a list of businesses that signed the covenant before April 16, making it apparent which haven’t.

    Picnic Day is the most profitable day of the year for many businesses, but they could lose it entirely if they don’t cooperate, she said.

    “”It’s important we send the message that we are serious as a business community about saving the tradition of Picnic Day,”” Cohan said.

    She said about half of the 100 bars and stores with liquor licenses have signed, including student watering holes such as The Graduate, Uncle Vito’s, and Froggy’s Bar and Grill.

    “”It’s a good-faith thing with the city,”” said Froggy’s manager Adam Andrews. “”We understand there are potentially problems with consumption and overconsumption.””

    But he said he thought unregulated house parties, not bars, were the main problem. At parties, the booze was bought from retailers, he said.

    Nugget won’t sign pledge

    Some retail stores, including grocery stores such as Nugget Markets and the Davis Food Co-op, have refused to sign the pledge.

    Managers of both markets said their stores play hardly any part in Picnic Day, and they don’t want to inconvenience their regular customers who might want to buy a bottle of wine or a six-pack with their groceries.

    “”Our shoppers come from near and far, and we do not want, for example, to tell a member who drove from Fairfield to come back after 11 a.m. or send them elsewhere to complete a shopping trip,”” Co-op General Manager Eric Stromberg wrote in an email.

    Nugget CFO David Lindsay put it more bluntly: “”I’m not going to tell you to come back this afternoon,”” he said “”It’s just ridiculous.””

    Another key measure is an ordinance that would double fines on Picnic Day to nearly $400 for certain offenses in the downtown area and along fraternity row, next to UC Davis onRussell Boulevard.

    The offenses include violations of the city’s noise provisions as well as possessing open containers of alcohol and urinating in public.

    Warning signs will be in the “”safety enhancement zone.”” “”People will see the signs and be put on notice,”” said Davis Police Lt. Glenn Glasgow.

    Asked whether drunk students would care about increased fines, Glasgow said, “”Mom and Dad will.””

    Working with fraternities

    Glasgow said he and other officers have been going to fraternities and talking with members about holding safe parties. Some of their tips, he said, include keeping the kegs in the backyard, so passers-by won’t be immediately tempted to join the party.

    They’ve been handing out “”Safe Party Packs,”” with information on how to host parties responsibly.

    And police have also been working with state Alcoholic Beverage Control to educate bar managers and employees on safe practices.

    But Glasgow said there aren’t funds to increase the number of officers working Picnic Day. That has some residents worried.

    Many of those arrested last year were unaffiliated with Davis or the university and may not be as responsive to outreach and fines. And a rash of incidents lately, including an armed robbery and a stabbing, have involved out-of-towners who came to parties or bars in Davis uninvited.

    Still, Glasgow said authorities are optimistic their efforts will show results.

    “”We’re not just throwing more officers at the day,”” he said. “”We’re trying to address the root causes of what led to last year’s problems.””

    What if the measures don’t work?

    Ending Picnic Day is still an option, said UC Davis administrator Gary Sandy. “”We were very serious about that,”” he said. “”It’s still on the table.””

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