Mixed Verdict on Picnic Day – Some Celebrate Improvements, Others Decry Problems

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The early reports I heard regarding Picnic Day seemed encouraging, other than a couple of high profile cases – a tasering and a knife, otherwise, things were relatively calm in Davis.  None of the out of control shenanigans of 2010.

The reported level of arrests was 51 – a bit higher than perhaps we would like, but given the police presence, not wholly surprising.  There were also just over 100 citations.

Compared to last year, those numbers are down – way down for the citations, where the Davis Police Department issued over 200 citations in 2011 and made 54 arrests.

Last year, Old North Davis reported a number of vandalism incidents and residents there were concerned that the Safety Enhancement Zone would end up pushing problems from the core to the rest of town.  This year, the city expanded the Safety Enhancement Zone and the reports are the problems there were way down.

Given all of this, we thought Picnic Day would be safe for another year.  We were surprised to see comments from both Police Chief Landy Black and a Davis Enterprise columnist lamenting the state of affairs.

While Landy Black started off reporting to the Davis Enterprise that “the weekend came and went without any significant assaults or other tragedies that have cast a shadow over Picnic Day celebrations over the past couple of years,” the Chief believed, “there’s far too much alcohol-fueled disorder going on.”

He said he wants to see city leaders talk more about the issue.  It is unfortunate that neither the mayor nor mayor pro tem were in town to personally witness what things were like.

The Chief added, “We need to be attentive so there is not the opportunity for tragedies that this thing brings on.”

Chief Black told the Vanguard Tuesday evening, “Neighborhoods might have been a bit tamer, but we didn’t see a significant difference downtown.  Plenty of disorder and some violence.”

“It’s really a shame that that’s what this has come to,” Chief Black told the Enterprise. “That’s not what the City of Davis or the university wants to be known for.”

For Bob Dunning, he argued, “When 51 arrests on a single day in downtown Davis is considered an ‘improvement,’ it’s time for everyone to sit down and reassess the very public black eye that Picnic Day has become … or at least Picnic Day downtown has become.”

He adds, “Picnic Day has been overshadowed for three straight years by rampant violence and public drunkenness downtown.”

He added, “It’s time for the university brass to have a come-to-Jesus powwow with bar owners downtown … either ban the sale of alcohol for one glorious day or we’ll cancel the event altogether … take it or leave it … as it is now, Picnic Day is a stain, not a celebration … very few of us look forward to it anymore.”

I was not able to walk through the downtown this year like I had hoped, but even last year, was fairly tame.

I asked UC Davis spokesperson Claudia Morain for her assessment.  She told the Vanguard, “This year was better than last year. The Greek pledge was a new and very positive step. Things are moving in the right direction.”

Now, some will counter that the university is spared the worst of things, and that is perhaps true, but the overall arrest and citation numbers were down this year from last year.  And some of it is inflated by what many said were actually too many police with not enough to do.

ASUCD President Rebecca Sterling called Picnic Day over all “a huge success.”

“[It was] much better than past years,” she said.  “The on campus scene was much calmer, and the crowds were not so compacted.  Even with the heat, the number of emergencies and people dehydrated decreased.”

She did add, “Into the evening there still seemed to be a large out of town presence downtown, but I don’t think it increased from years past.”

Various other people suggested it was tame compared to other years.

On Facebook one person told me, “Compared to years past it was very calm. Not as much going on. A lot more police around and not as many parties.”

It seems to be that the situation in Davis on Saturday was manageable and bearable.  It is not going to be perfect.  It is not going to be the exact event it was twenty years ago.

Can we do a bit more?  Probably.  But if we can prevent wholesale problems and put up with the large number of police, I think it can be one day out of the year where everything does not go perfectly but still ends up a reasonably good day.

I am sure there are still those people who want to ban alcohol altogether on that day.  To me, that seems a bit over-the-top.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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25 thoughts on “Mixed Verdict on Picnic Day – Some Celebrate Improvements, Others Decry Problems”

  1. Dr. Wu

    [quote]“Neighborhoods might have been a bit tamer, but we didn’t see a significant difference downtown. Plenty of disorder and some violence.”[/quote]

    [quote]“when 51 arrests on a single day in downtown Davis is considered an “improvement,” it’s time for everyone to sit down and reassess the very public black eye that Picnic Day has become … or at least Picnic Day downtown has become.”[/quote]

    [quote]“it’s time for the university brass to have a come-to-Jesus powwow with bar owners downtown … either ban the sale of alcohol for one glorious day or we’ll cancel the event altogether … take it or leave it … as it is now, Picnic Day is a stain, not a celebration … very few of us look forward to it anymore.”[/quote]

    I think banning alcohol sales is a good idea. When I ask people what they associate with picnic day, public drunkeness is high on the list of responses. THe university puts a great deal of effort into picnic day, but all of this is tainted by alcohol.

  2. medwoman

    This is my second year of being able to assess Picnic Day both on campus and in downtown from the perspective of living in Old East Davis. The stroll onto campus at about 10 am in order to take in the parade on the way was entirely uneventful with lots of families and young children enjoying the festivities before the day became too hot and the little ones too cranky. On campus, all appeared to be well at the many venues we saw on route to the
    sheep dog trials and back. At about 5, we headed towards home and while there were some groups of young people in obvious “internal possession” states, all was peaceful if a little noisy. I think that the number of arrests reflects the ubiquitous presence of police and was certainly not disruptive of my rather sedate ( I’m approaching seniorhood) view of what Picnic Day should be. Would I like to see alcohol use limited ? Absolutely. Would I like to
    see Picnic Day cancelled on the basis of what I saw this year ? Absolutely not.

  3. JustSaying

    I agree with David and medwoman. Things never will be the same as 25 years ago, but there’s enough good things going on that we should preserve Picnic Day.

    Closing down alcohol sales at the bars and restaurants might be counter-productive. The businesses have extra help on hand to help maintain order and to cut off drunks. Do we know whether those businesses or the private parties produce the trouble-maker drunks?

    We happened to be at Costco on Friday, and were astounded at the number of young men with baskets full of beer, a little soda and the ever-present red, plastic cups. It doesn’t take a complete college education to know how plan ahead a little.

  4. 91 Octane

    It is very clear to me, from the data, picnic day continues to be an ongoing problem. It is very clear to me why it continues to be a problem. It is clear to the police why it continues to be a problem.

    As dunning notes, when we call 51 arrests are an “improvement,” that just says it all.

    We ought to put all options on the table. First, I think UCD needs to cough up the costs of law enforcement and everything else associated with picnic day, not the city. They set the event up, let them pay for it.

    Second, I do not understand the hesitation with banning alcohol sales. Alcohol is clearly what is causing the problem. If this cannot happen, then I don’t see hesitation with banning picnic day altogether. Picnic day, in the scheme of things, is not important. public safety is.

    Now, this discussion has been a long time coming. I hear people go on adnaauseam about “community, community, community.” I hear that word used over and over till I want to throw up from nausea. Yet when it comes time to do what needs to protect the community…… suddenly picnic day is more important, alcohol consumption is more important. Selfish desires are more important. Somehow, public safety is not.

  5. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]I am sure there are still those people who want to ban alcohol altogether on that day. To me, that seems a bit over-the-top.[/quote]

    Why is banning alcohol for one day over-the-top? Are you trying to tell me people cannot have fun w/o imbibing alcohol? Really?

  6. nvn8v

    ban ban ban… good grief. You NIMBY types continue to amaze me. I would like to see the total economic impact from picnic day for the city. I am sure the income to the city from revenue generated far exceeds the police overtime and other costs associated. Banning anything so ingraned in a culture just leads to underground continuation of the activity. “Picnic Day” the drinking event will continue regardless of efforts to curb it. It’s as much a part of campus drinking culture as welcome week, Halloween, houseboats, and St Patricks Day among others.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine: First, I find it interesting that you are in favor of cutting the legs out from under the bars and businesses that rely on the profits from Picnic Day to get by. You have often accused the council of micromanaging winners and losers and now you do the same. I point this out, not because I necessarily agree with that point but only that I think it’s ironic you do so.

    Second, all a ban would do is drive alcohol consumption out of the public eye and into private residences. In short, you cannot practically ban alcohol, but you can create incentives to insure that its consumption will be neighborhoods and apartment complexes rather than the downtown.

  8. Barbara King

    There was what the police identified as some gang graffiti in a downtown apartment complex this Picnic Day. What other Picnic Day trouble might be gang related? I am not trying to downplay the drunk student aspect–I lived downtown for 22 years and am very aware of that part of the problem. But the gang aspect is new to me–and disturbing.

  9. Don Shor

    David: Picnic Day, with its current reputation, cuts my business about 40 – 50% compared to a typical April Saturday. That has been increasing over the years as the reputation has worsened. On a Saturday in the spring, that is not inconsequential for a nursery. Downtown businesses close. So some businesses are profiting substantially, but somewhat at the expense of others.
    Alcohol consumption in private residences reduces the problem of public drunkenness. That’s the point.
    I’m not favoring banning Picnic Day. But I think the downtown impact needs to be addressed, not ignored.

  10. David M. Greenwald

    Don: That’s a good point. I’m not completely opposed to a DT ban on alcohol, I am opposed to making emotional and gut decisions.

    I would like to understand a few things first – what is the net impact of picnic on our economy, how is that distributed, and what would be the impact of banning alcohol.

  11. AeroDeo

    Canceling Picnic Day due to the inability of a handful of individuals to act responsibly is such an over reach that I find it hard to discuss the topic seriously. Banning alcohol sales downtown is a bit heavy handed and, as David pointed out, is micromanaging businesses even if it is possible (big if IMO).

    [quote]First, I think UCD needs to cough up the costs of law enforcement and everything else associated with picnic day, not the city. They set the event up, let them pay for it. [/quote]
    You’ve got to be kidding me… how on earth did the actions of individuals become the responsibility of the university?

    [quote]Why is banning alcohol for one day over-the-top? Are you trying to tell me people cannot have fun w/o imbibing alcohol? Really[/quote]
    Like it or not, this is still a free country where the consumption of alcohol is legal and your opinion of what others can or cannot experience with or without the consumption of alcohol is irrelevant.

    I’ve participated in many a Picnic Day from both the student perspective and as member of the community accompanied by my wife (former student as well) and children, which is to say that I’ve seen both sides, and I think many of you are missing the point entirely. Picnic day is a wonderful event for a variety of different reasons. Everyone has their own way of enjoying the experience that is Picnic Day and all perspectives should be respected, as long as they’re acting within the law.

    As an anecdotal observation, I didn’t witness anyone misbehaving on campus this year… maybe the city should start encouraging their officers to openly carry pepper spray. (This last sentence is sarcasm by the way.)

  12. Mark West

    I think it is worth pointing out that it is already illegal for a bar, restaurant, or store to sell alcohol to someone who is intoxicated. If an establishment is ignoring this regulation, then it is a matter for enforcement, not banning of sales elsewhere.

  13. Don Shor

    It has been increasing. My recollection from the 1980s was that Picnic Day was down 20% or so compared to April average. Weather is a big variable, of course.

  14. Robin W

    I would like to see Picnic Day cancelled. It has become too great a safety issue, I am sure it is a major expense which the City cannot afford, and for a lot of us it has become scary, not fun. Picnic Day used to be a big thing for families with kids, and maybe it used to increase revenue for Davis businesses. I can’t imagine that it still does, on average. I do not know anyone in my age group (people with college age to young adult kids) who will go anywhere near downtown on Picnic Day — or who would go out to dinner anywhere in Davis on Picnic Day. It does not surprise me that our mayor and mayor pro tem were both out of town for the day.

  15. Berryessa-Wilcox

    I spent all day downtown and it was completely tame and not even close the chaos of prior years.

    I live in Old North on a highly trafficked street, and the rowdiness was about twice the average Friday or Saturday night. I was expecting something ten times worse. Around 8pm I left my house and walked to the University Avenue neighborhood to visit a friend’s house, and once again I was amazed at how tame is was. Lots of people were out, but they were they weren’t causing trouble or even being very loud. They were just having a good time. The next day I ran into a friend who bartends at a downtown bar, and he was shocked that picnic day at his bar felt about the same as an average weekend night. In past years I saw stumbling drunks at 10am, and this year I didn’t see any at 10pm.

    Things were much much better this year. So it’s disheartening that so many people on this blog still call for kneejerk bans.

  16. medwoman

    Robin W

    “Picnic Day used to be a big thing for families with kids”

    From the looks of downtown on Saturday, this is still the case. In the morning from about 10 – 11, there were many families with children lining the parade route and then strolling on to campus to enjoy the activities there.
    Like with any activity that draws large crowds of people, there will be some who will enjoy the atmosphere of noise, celebration, and enthusiasm as can be seen in a number of the bands and groups, and there will be others who will
    choose to avoid it because of fear or dislike of crowds and noise. I think, given that Picnic Day 2012 was a generally peaceful event, it would be a real shame to eliminate this one day that many enjoy, because of fear or personal preference. As I stated, I was out and about on campus and downtown all day and into the evening, and could hear the revelry of downtown from where I live ( and was not the least bothered by it) until my admittedly early ( 10 pm ) bedtime. Unlike two years ago I felt completely comfortable and enjoyed the entire day and evening.

    For those who prefer not to have Picnic Day, my response would be, don’t go. But don’t attempt to impose a ban
    on what many still find a very enjoyable day.

  17. jrberg

    I happened to be doing traffic control at 2nd and B from 8 am until noon. Lots of kids, lots of happy people, lots of people from out of town, out of state, out of country. Yeah, there were some loud drunks, but they got drowned out by the parade, which was full of (dare I say it?) happy people.

  18. Robin W

    I am glad to hear that it was mostly pleasant early in the day for families with little kids. For those who did not see any rowdiness, you apparently managed to avoid the times and/or places where the police were when people were arrested or cited. I saw plenty of rowdiness when I dropped off my older kid downtown in the afternoon and picked him up in the evening, including the party houses with the “honk if you like being drunk” signs. An equally significant factor for me is what I assume is the large cost to the City for the massive police presence and clean-up for this university function. Does anyone know what the City spends to have all those extra police present for the day and evening, or what the extra clean-up costs are? David?

  19. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Elaine: First, I find it interesting that you are in favor of cutting the legs out from under the bars and businesses that rely on the profits from Picnic Day to get by. You have often accused the council of micromanaging winners and losers and now you do the same. I point this out, not because I necessarily agree with that point but only that I think it’s ironic you do so. [/quote]

    I base my decisions on a particular issue/event, not on a particular agenda in toto. Therefore I see the need for gov’t intervention (or “micromanaging” as you call it) when things get out of hand. (My complaint about micromanaging has to do w a lack of expertise by the way, so my views are taken out of context here.) I don’t think there is anything “ironic” about that at all…

    [quote]Second, all a ban would do is drive alcohol consumption out of the public eye and into private residences. In short, you cannot practically ban alcohol, but you can create incentives to insure that its consumption will be neighborhoods and apartment complexes rather than the downtown.[/quote]

    Don Shor countered this fallacious argument nicely, to wit:
    [quote]David: Picnic Day, with its current reputation, cuts my business about 40 – 50% compared to a typical April Saturday. That has been increasing over the years as the reputation has worsened. On a Saturday in the spring, that is not inconsequential for a nursery. Downtown businesses close. So some businesses are profiting substantially, but somewhat at the expense of others.
    Alcohol consumption in private residences reduces the problem of public drunkenness. That’s the point.
    I’m not favoring banning Picnic Day. But I think the downtown impact needs to be addressed, not ignored.[/quote]

  20. medwoman

    David

    I agree that to really assess the value of Picnic Day we would need a lot more information on the direct and indirect benefits to the city and the university. I would like to see an article that covers the following points:

    For individual businesses:
    1) Number of businesses who close their doors specifically because of Picnic Day and why they close. One thing if they close because people
    Simply don’t buy their product because they are busy doing something else. ( Would we ban the Super Bowl because people are in front of
    Their TVs rather than out shopping ?) Quite another if they close their doors because they are afraid to open.
    2) What are their actual financial losses during this one day ?
    3) What are the actual financial gains to the businesses ( such as restaurants and bars) that do well on Picnic Day)?
    From speaking to a personal friend who owns a small restaurant downtown I get the feeling that while Picnic Day is a bit of a nuisance in
    terms of the occasional inebriated customer, this is more than compensated for by the increased income.

    For the city:
    1) Costs of increased police ?
    2) Costs of clean up – although I think the latter may be or certainly could be off set by volunteer activities such as Rifkin and others have
    promoted for litter clean up in general rather than banning the activity over cost.
    3) “Soft benefits ” to the community from outside folks coming in, having a great time, and deciding to come back to town on other occasions.
    4) “Soft benefits” to the community from people engaging in a community spirited tradition, which Picnic Day remains for those who participate,
    If not for those who don’t.

    For the university:
    1) Same production costs as for the city
    2) Benefits of “selling the university” to the broader community by high lighting it’s special programs and providing a pleasant interface between
    The university and the community.

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