SLO residents have called on the city council to cancel Cal Poly’s “St. Fratty’s Day” tradition. On Tuesday, the city will review updated plans on managing the event.
Residents for Quality Neighborhoods (RQN) SLO spoke out at the Feb. 21 city council meeting to voice concerns about students’ annual St. Fratty’s Day celebrations.
“This year I feel the plan should be prevention. Send the message that St. Fratty’s Day is canceled,” RQN SLO member Karen Adler said during public comment. “The idea around the event – getting together, getting drunk, overtaking the neighborhood – should not be tolerated.”
Residents for Quality Neighborhoods SLO is a community group formed in response to the “deterioration of their once family friendly neighborhoods,” according to their website.
St. Fratty’s Day gained popularity within the Cal Poly student community throughout the early 2010s, before garnering national attention following a collapsed roof at a party in 2015. Nine were injured in the incident, which prompted discussions about new policies that would regulate the conduct of St. Fratty’s Day events.
In August 2015, the City of San Luis Obispo implemented collaborative measures that would allow the Cal Poly Police Department to cite select city code violations within a one-mile radius of campus.
These cooperative policies were taken a step further in 2018 with the voluntary party registration program, which allowed for a courtesy call to the party organizers as well as a subsequent 20-minute grace period to get the event under control.
Registration under this program was one of three requests that Residents for Quality Neighborhoods advocated for during the meeting.
People seeking to host gatherings at their home must fill out a 10 page application to apply for a special events permit from the city, according to the policy.
“It’s inexplicable why everyone else has to have a large event permit in the city to obtain to have an event but the hosts of this event don’t need to have one. Why not?” SLO resident Carolyn Smith said.
The second request was a call to expand the safety enhancement zone to include the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day as well as weekend after, as the current double-fine period only covers the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day.
The city uses Safety Enhancement Zones to deter city code violations through the doubling of fines during time periods when party noise is expected to be high.
Residents for Quality Neighborhoods’ third request was for large police force personnel to arrive an hour before the event started, in order to better control the event as people began to congregate.
“I’m worried because last year, except for 2015, was the worst year we’ve seen,” Adler said. “Our neighborhood was completely taken over by intoxicated young students and it was mayhem. Law enforcement was not in control of the situation, and that is scary.”
These concerns aren’t new in San Luis Obispo. Notably a college town, there have been at least two other major incidents leading to the cancellation of large campus-wide events. In May of 1990, a nearly 60-year old tradition called Poly Royal was canceled after a weekend of rioting. A record 110 arrests and over 100 injuries created mass disruption in the community; hauling more than 100 youth to be treated at local hospitals.
With the cancellation of Poly Royal, a new event emerged to entice large gatherings of students in the streets. Over the next 14 years, Cal Poly became accustomed to the annual Mardi Gras celebrations; which are now left with one headline: The 2004 Mardi Gras riot.
Nearly 180 arrests were reported in 2004, at least two of which suggested assault with a deadly weapon. In both events, around a dozen police officers were reported injured.
In understanding the severity of these celebrations and why residents continue to caution the weekend, public comment from Jeff Eidelman at the city council meeting assessed how these two events may mirror the future of St Fratty’s.
“There are hundreds of students climbing up on rooftops,” Eidelman said. “We’ve had other large student events here in our institutional memory too – Poly Royal or the Mardi Gras. Great traditions canceled after many years of rowdy behavior.”
Both celebrations had not only a record amount of citations, but also a record amount of attendees. Mustang News previously reported that individuals traveled far from places including Reno, New Hampshire and even New Zealand in 2004 for the Mardi Gras celebration. In the years prior, San Luis Obispo took in more than 100,000 visitors in 1990 despite their 41,000 person population at the time for Poly Royal.
Other commentary during the council discussion claimed that last year sought the most destruction since the event first started in 2015 at 348 Hathaway Avenue. Deemed the “pink house,” 348 Hathaway Avenue houses the fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa.
“We continue to look for safe and peaceful ways to resolve what we know is probably inevitable,” SLO Police Chief Rick Scott said. “We have a plan in place. We do have some tweaks to make to ensure that it is effective. I’m proud of the progress we’re making on that front.”
The police chief will return to the city council on Tuesday to provide details about law enforcement plans for St. Patrick’s Day and surrounding events.