The Fate of Picnic Day Still Looms

Picnic-Day-ArrestThe city council on Tuesday will hear a largely informational report on the 2011 Picnic Day, which followed a 2010 Picnic Day that saw “uncontrollable crowds and riotous behavior in downtown Davis.”

Efforts were made by leaders in the community and on campus to “make Picnic Day 2011 a different event, focusing on family and community-friendly efforts and ‘rewinding’ Picnic Day to its original purpose as the university’s primary open house.”

As we know from our previous reports on the matter, the results were mixed.  The worst behaviors – violence and sexual assaults –  were down from last year. But with a heavy police presence from across the region, alcohol arrests were up, and there were widespread complaints of destruction of property, both in the downtown area as well as Old North Davis. That neighborhood was hit hard by property damage, as people were forced northward and out of the core by doubled fines, in the creation of a safety enhancement zone.

The city staff report makes no recommendations for city action at this time, and the university has made no specific recommendations regarding their plans for future Picnic Days.

One question is how much this cost the city, both in budgeted and unbudgeted costs.  After all, the heavy police presence did not come cheaply, nor did clean up and other enforcement mechanisms.  Some of that undoubtedly may be offset by the double fines from the safety enhancement zone.  However, the city staff is reportedly “compiling those costs and will provide additional information for the City Council at or prior to the May 3 meeting.”

The city staff report makes some important observations, similar to some of the ones we have made.

“Many media reports have noted that the number of citations and arrests increased substantially from 2010. While this is true, it is neither unexpected nor a disappointing result,” the staff report acknowledges.

They add, “Our goal is for citations to be at a minimum because people are complying with the law.  However, citations can be low because there aren’t enough law enforcement providers to address issues and/or addressing certain types of incidents make require a greater number of law enforcement officials, leaving fewer officers and less time to write citations.”

This follows our observation that the scene was fairly tame out there in the core, and in part the high arrest numbers result from the high numbers of police, as well as from the zero tolerance policies in place.

The staff report adds, “In the case of Picnic Day 2011, both the city and UC Davis were able to secure adequate numbers of mutual aid respondents, in additional to regular officers. This allowed for sufficient coverage of the downtown and campus, as well as proactive involvement. A proactive stance allows situations to be addressed prior to escalation, maintaining the public safety and preventing larger problems.”

The staff report also provided feedback from the UC Davis recap meeting on April 20.

The report said that Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Fred Wood noted that Picnic Day on campus is a different event than the “Picnic Day” that occurs in downtown Davis and other parts of the community, and that Picnic Day, while still having problems, is going in a better direction than it was in 2010.

They added that several attendees suggested that, overall, current UC Davis students kept a low-key profile and behaved responsibly on campus. Both UC Davis and City of Davis police complimented the Greeks overall for their behavior and adherence to requests of law enforcement officials.

The Davis Downtown Business Association reported that, overall, merchants felt safer than last year. However, the day continues to be a challenge for many retailers, with intoxicated people entering stores and in some cases damaging merchandise.

Some downtown retailers even feel it is better for them to close on Picnic Day; others have mentioned they feel they need to be in their stores to protect their property.

The Davis Chamber of Commerce reflected on the positive impact of the Community Covenant and noted that, overall, the day went more smoothly because of the increased police presence.

On the other hand, “The atmosphere downtown was perhaps best described as ‘suppressed.’ With large numbers of law enforcement officers stationed throughout the downtown, the crowds did not get out of control. Officers were able to be proactive in their enforcement, citing individuals before situations escalated into something more serious. However, the tipping point to a more chaotic and dangerous situation was never far away.”

The neighborhood parties were said to be “on the whole, smaller and quieter,” however, “we still have a problem with noise, vandalism, and littering stemming from parties at private residences.”

Staff noted that they believe that “the Safety Enhancement Zone was a success.”  At the same same time, they acknowledge, “There were some concerns that the Zone ‘moved’ the problems from downtown to adjacent neighborhoods; however, staff notes that the Zone does not change the legality of offenses but simply increases the fines. Staff will, however, review the boundaries of the Zone to determine whether any changes need to be recommended for the future.”

In conclusion, staff notes that “Picnic Day is the university’s event. It is not within the city’s jurisdiction to decide the fate, the scope or the future of Picnic Day. That said, staff believes the campus will continue to seek input and feedback from the community as they consider how to proceed with Picnic Day in the future. Whether and how the university holds Picnic Day on campus does have immediate and direct ramifications throughout the remainder of the community.”

There are both positives and negatives to take out of this.

On the positive side, “Hotels are full, resulting in transient occupancy tax for the city; restaurants and bars report some of their best receipts for the year (actual receipts for the day are proprietary; the city can only track actual revenues by quarter), the university is able to showcase the diversity and depth of its research and academic programs, a benefit to both campus and community, and Picnic Day can be, quite simply, fun.”

On the negative side, “It remains the single highest day for calls for service, arrests and citations in the city of any day of the year. This results in an undue burden placed on existing resources, both human and financial. Many Davis residents feel uncomfortable going downtown or in their own homes and neighborhoods, because of large crowds, parties and heavy drinking.”

The Sacramento Bee had a report today that was more somber, on the prospects for the future of Picnic Day.

“The event lacked much of the violence and disorder of Picnic Day 2010, which had numerous street fights and out-of-control house parties,” the Bee reported.  “This year, police officers  turned out in force and made dozens of arrests. Most were for public intoxication, and the majority of those were in downtown Davis, where thousands of young people roamed the streets and lined up at popular drinking spots.”

“The root of all the problems we had was alcohol,” said Gary Sandy, UC Davis’ town-gown coordinator told the Bee. “We have to find some way of taking alcohol out of this event.”

And the Bee had bad news for those who believe that they can make Picnic Day a “dry” day by banning alcohol in the city.

Deputy City Manager Kelly Stachowicz told the Bee that the city lacks the legal authority to prevent state liquor-license holders from selling alcohol on Picnic Day or to restrict hours.

“We cannot as a city simply tell a bar or restaurant that has a liquor license that you have to stop selling at six o’clock or can’t sell on a particular day,” she said.

On the other hand, there are two possibilities.  One are voluntary concessions and the other is closing down sections of the downtown, again voluntarily.

It remains to be seen what officials choose to do with Picnic.  From my vantage point, the problems were minor.  I understand the concerns of the merchants downtown and the residents in portions of Davis surrounding the downtown area.

On the other hand, it could be worse, and what would stop students from organizing a drinking party day using social media to pass the word?

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “”The root of all the problems we had was alcohol,” said Gary Sandy, UC Davis’ town-gown coordinator told the Bee. “We have to find some way of taking alcohol out of this event.””

    That’s the problem in a nutshell. If the businesses won’t cooperate by agreeing not to sell alcohol, and/or if people keep having huge drinking parties that get out of hand and destroy property, perhaps Picnic Day needs to take a haitus for a while… sigh… it will be a shame if it comes to a few spoiling it for all…

    It will also be interesting to see how much Picnic Day costs the city, in light of our current economic downturn…

  2. Justin Kudo

    I sincerely hope that this city has not become so intolerant of student behavior and the tendency of college students to party on holidays that we manage to get Picnic Day shut down.

  3. Rifkin

    [i]”Staff noted that they believe that “the Safety Enhancement Zone was a success.” At the same same time, they acknowledge, “There were some concerns that the Zone ‘moved’ the problems from downtown to adjacent neighborhoods;”[/i]

    A complimentary approach would be to have a “Danger Enhancement Zone.” Within such a DEZ, adults would have the right to get ripped, take drugs, get naked, voluntarily fight, go wild, vomit, etc. Having a DEZ would concentrate all the problems in one zone, so the rest of the city would be safe and sane.

  4. Steve Hayes

    A Tale of Two “Cities”, or, “From Davisville to Potterville”

    On the evening of Picnic Day 2011, my wife and I drove through downtown Davis because we wanted to listen to the battle of the bands on the UCD Campus. During our transit, we had to carefully dodge roving masses of young adults wandering throughout downtown in search of a good time at the ever increasing number of clubs and bars that have sprung up in the Core Area to welcome them*.

    When we finally got to UCD, we sat on a bench overlooking Lake Spafford and thoroughly enjoyed the enthusiastic student band concert. A full moon rose over the scene to the south as the evening progressed, and everyone at the concert seemed to have a good time, in spite of the on campus no alcohol policy.
    *Because many of the Davis Core Area restaurants now convert to bars/clubs after 1000 PM and remain open until midnight or later on weekends, Davis has become a destination “Party Town” and late night drunkenness and disorder have become more common. Future Picnic Days will continue to be coordinated chaos unless this trend is reversed

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