Sunday Commentary: Why Are We Taking This Out on Picnic Day?


When I first heard of the incident on Picnic Day, the entire episode seemed overblown in the police report – and my worry was that this was going to be an excuse to attempt a shutdown of Picnic Day.  Reading a couple of recent letters has only heightened that concern.

In one letter, they wrote, “Picnic Day has been a hot mess since the year that a few irresponsible business owners served up $2 pitchers of beer beginning at 6 a.m. and the sidewalks of downtown became urinals.”

Here are a couple of thoughts they offered.

First, responding to public comments on Tuesday, they argued that not all of the individuals present at the council meeting were residents of Davis.  They wrote, “I read that it was said by some that they wanted Police Chief Darren Pytel and those officers involved in the Russell Boulevard incident fired. If any of the individuals who asked for this particular solution are not residents of this city, I ask that you please go pound sand. While your opinion is of value to you, it is irrelevant to this city.”

They argued that “the problem is not the police chiefs, it’s us when we are behaving badly.”

Their solution, “Picnic Day should be dry from here on out. No alcohol within a 2-mile radius of the campus on that particular day. If anyone has a problem with that, they should take it up with the irresponsible business owners, as they are the ones that ruined it for everyone.”

They concluded, “Seems to me we only take responsibility off of the shoulders of those behaving badly when we have cops to blame.”

I have several responses to this letter.

First of all, we revisit the theme of outsiders, and the letter writer’s attitude is that anyone from outside this community who offers an opinion can “go pound sand.”  The reality is that I think they are mistaken.  I know that one individual – ironically, Al Rojas, who was honored that very evening for his lifetime of work – was not from Davis.  Of the 24 speakers, I don’t know if anyone else was from outside of the town.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Al Rojas called for anyone’s firing, but, given that Davis is a university town and many people work here but don’t live here, I’m not sure where such a parochial attitude comes from.

Second is the notion of behaving badly.  The video from the car shows a large crowd that appears to be partying at a corner frat house.  The crowd spills into the street, which we can argue is illegal and causes a roadway obstruction.

But the crowd was peaceful.  You can see the participants partying and dancing a bit in the street.  There is not much commotion and no signs of unrest.

That changes dramatically once the police approach in an unmarked car. Unfortunately we don’t have audio, so we can’t hear what was said, but it appears that the car nearly hits pedestrians which seems to set some off in the crowd and a confrontation emerges and quickly becomes violent.

In a separate letter Elaine Roberts Musser wrote that “what actually happened is not the spirit in which to celebrate Picnic Day.”

She said, “This event has become a drunken rout, which keeps residents away from downtown, and isn’t too pleasant for neighbors on the periphery that have to put up with inebriated revelers urinating or vomiting on their lawns.”

She added, “In light of this assault and other brutalities that have occurred on Picnic Days in the immediate past, I think it is past time for this community to have a serious conversation about this event. I would recommend suspending Picnic Day for the next year if the university would agree. Then the city and UCD would have time to seriously consider how to address what this event has become — a giant alcohol-fueled party rather than a family-friendly event.”

By most accounts, with this exception, Picnic Day was fairly calm this year.  Many portions of the event are in fact family-friendly and tame.

I really don’t understand why people want to shut down Picnic Day every time something gets a little bit out of hand.

We are a college town.  There will be students that gather into parties.  Some will drink, some will make noise, some will make a mess.  If something like this happened any other day of the year – what would be our recourse?

The idea of banning alcohol within a 2-mile radius of campus will either not be practical or will push parties out to the periphery of town.

I have suggested a counter-proposal which is, rather than trying to fight parties and nuisance, for one day, to embrace them.  Have and encourage parties, block off side streets, push the parties into the open where they can be monitored and better controlled.

For one day we can live with streets that are blocked off or avoid sections of town.

What happened at College Park was handled poorly by all involved and we need to get to the bottom of what happened so we can avoid a repeat.  However, shutting down Picnic Day because of it is another vast overreaction that should be avoided.

—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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