There was a time when San Luis Obispo celebrated Mardi Gras.
The metamorphosis of Mardi Gras in San Luis Obispo began nearly a decade ago when participants set a record attendance at the 1997 Mardi Gras parade. In return, police decided to increase their presence at future parades.
Rain cancelled the 1998 parade and the police department began recording the number of Mardi Gras violations in 1999.
Of the 31,000 weekend attendees, police made 35 arrests and issued 47 citations that year according to SLOPD’s 2005 Mardi Gras planning overview.
The number of violations increased in 2000, resulting in 60 arrests and 127 citations among 35,000 attendees.
Local law enforcement and the city attempted to reduce the number of Mardi Gras violations by moving the parade from Sunday to Tuesday night. Despite the change, police arrested a record 84 people.
The city then took steps to avoid a nighttime parade in 2002. After event organizers took the issue to court, the city agreed for a parade on Saturday afternoon. The sponsors cancelled the event in retaliation.
When a Sunday parade took place in 2003, police made 139 arrests and issued 75 citations on Friday and Saturday night.
On the Fat Tuesday of that year, a crowd of 300 students threw bottles and rocks and climbed over fences to gain access to the Cedar Creek residence. The crowd grew to about 400 students and later dispersed with little effort from police.
The face of Mardi Gras in San Luis Obispo changed forever in 2004.
Record numbers of students and guests came to the city and large parties assembled in the northern part of town. Police deployed over 120 officers from several jurisdictions to avoid potential problems.
On Saturday, Feb. 21, a riot broke out at the corner of California and Foothill Boulevards. People threw rocks, bottles and cans at the police officers were directing traffic.
At 10:04 p.m., police sent out a mutual aid call to 120 additional officers from Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.
By 1:30 a.m., police arrested a record 195 people. Twelve officers sustained minor injuries from the confrontation.
The social disorder continued on the night of Fat Tuesday. Hundreds of college students gathered in Mustang Village and threw fireworks. Police dispersed the crowd.
Police also split up another group of students on Stenner Street and patrolled the area to prevent large crowds from forming.
Two students threw an explosive device at police who were temporarily deaf.
Out of the 11 arrests on that Tuesday night, three were felony charges for assault on a police officer.
The total cost of Mardi Gras 2004 was approximately $500,000.
In September 2004, the city and law enforcement took action to prevent dangerous situations at Mardi Gras.
These steps included tripling fines for public drunkenness, noise and public urination violations throughout the weekend.
Some students reacted to the city’s stance against Mardi Gras. Cal Poly student Erick Meschkat started a movement called “Poly Gras” to promote partying the weekend after Mardi Gras. Cal Poly government and law enforcement were outraged by students attempting to undermine city efforts.
No actual “Poly Gras” event took place.
By all accounts, the city’s planning worked. Police made 82 arrests over Mardi Gras 2005 weekend, a 58 percent decrease from the previous year.
This year, the city of San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly, Cuesta College and local law enforcement held several community events to discourage partying on Mardi Gras weekend. Their campaigns include signs in local businesses and going door-to-door with information for residents near the university.
SLOPD said that about 350 police will be deployed and triple fines will be enforced this weekend.