Floating frenzy

Officers pay an early visit to this year’s organizers

Thousands of people gather on the infamous “Beer Can Beach” for the Labor Day 2009 float. It was the first time Top Shelf Productions provided live music on the beach and saw a huge turnout, largely due to advertising on Facebook.

Thousands of people gather on the infamous “Beer Can Beach” for the Labor Day 2009 float. It was the first time Top Shelf Productions provided live music on the beach and saw a huge turnout, largely due to advertising on Facebook.

photo courtesy of AmbriZ top shelf productions

On Labor Day weekend, 20-somethings and out-of-towners help Chico live up to its nickname of the “Dirty 5-30” when thousands of them travel the 20 minutes to Hamilton City to flood the Sacramento River with cheap beer, bad tattoos and muddy feet. It’s tradition.

But that tradition is changing.

For years, no one knew whether Butte County or Glenn County was responsible for what happened at the infamous Beer Can Beach, an island of rocks with sludgy shores that’s exposed during the summer near the orchard where floaters exit the river.

Technically, the area is state-parks land—which means it falls under the concurrent jurisdiction of the State Lands Commission and its county government—but numerous agencies have pooled their efforts to keep floaters safe the past few decades, including the counties’ sheriff’s offices, Chico police, Cal-Fire, the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said State Park Peace Officer Travis Gee.

While students spent their summer at home, law-enforcement agencies spent their time this year doing their homework. Through research, it’s finally been determined that the beach is in Glenn County.

But unfortunately for those who like to spend the Sunday before Labor Day there each year, that means this year party-goers must follow Glenn County laws.

“Up until fairly recently, we weren’t even sure who had proprietary rights over the land,” said Glenn County Sheriff’s Lt. Phil Revolinsky. “It’s now our problem.”

Revolinsky, who has been dealing with events on Beer Can Beach for “a zillion years,” said that with the responsibility comes the county’s ability to use its ordinances to keep floaters safe. For this year’s annual Labor Day weekend float on Sunday (Sept. 5), law enforcement easily discovered through social networking whom they could hold responsible for violating the county’s outdoor-assemblies ordinance, which requires a permit for large gatherings.

A quick visit to Facebook shows that the biggest player in organizing this year’s float is Ambriz Top Shelf Productions, a group of full-time Chico State students who have made a name for themselves the past few years by throwing elaborate parties with a strong emphasis on live, local music. The Butte and Glenn sheriff’s offices are hesitant to name the guys directly, but it’s no secret that law enforcement has been keeping an eye on the group—mostly through Facebook—as its parties have grown in the past few years.

Labor Day floating had died down before Top Shelf members floated in 2008 and saw a potential to bring live music to the event.

That same year, this reporter floated the river on the infamous Sunday and witnessed the mayhem for herself: Keystone Light cans crushed beneath people’s bare feet, girls on guys’ shoulders (bikini tops optional), beer pong tables and an impressive sound system that made the little beach seem like a glimpse of spring break in Cancun. Top Shelf members saw how “crazy” it was, and decided they’d enhance the Labor Day tradition with live music in 2009, said CEO Marcelo Ambriz. The event turned out to be a huge, sloppy, celebratory success.

But the cocktail of cold water, high currents, excessive alcohol consumption and hot sun can be dangerous. Add commercial entities and live music to that, and it gets worse, Gee said.

Things were OK with Top Shelf’s floats until their “May Day” float this year that turned into an “emergency-response disaster,” said Sgt. Anthony Borgman of the Butte County Sheriff’s Office. Things got so out of control that nearly 30 people had to be rescued from the river and Beer Can Beach, and a 17-year-old girl visiting from San Diego had to be airlifted to a hospital after she began suffering from hypothermia and alcohol poisoning.

That incident has contributed to officials’ concerns about this Sunday’s float, including a Facebook event page created by Top Shelf that had 3,973 “confirmed” invitations by press time. That whopping number—out of nearly 10,000 who were invited through the Facebook page—prompted officers from the Butte and Glenn county sheriff offices and the California Department of Fish and Game to pay a visit to the Top Shelf Productions house on Ivy Street, Ambriz said.

“[The visit] was all very cordial, really relaxed,” Ambriz said. “They came and let us know that we haven’t done anything wrong; they were just saying in their words that we’re too successful at our own game.”

Ambriz said that the company planned to build an entire stage on the beach this year, and, with thousands of people planning to attend, officers were concerned about security and sanitation.

He noted that while the production company does provide security, Glenn County’s ordinance requires that those organizing outdoor assemblies with more than 2,000 guests must secure a permit and beef up security.

After their chat with law enforcement, Top Shelf officials changed this Sunday’s Facebook event page to include an explanation about why they would no longer be providing live music. They also shared a link to Glenn County’s ordinance for floaters to review before they hit the water this weekend, offered safety tips and apologized for the change in plans, citing major potential fines as their reason.

Revolinksky said he also spoke with a second party who was promoting Sunday’s event, but that individual has yet to assure police he will not provide live music.

While Top Shelf’s plans have been hampered this year, next year might be a different story. Now that the guys know their options, they are considering planning ahead to secure a permit (it takes 60 days) and pay the necessary fees, Ambriz said.

“Now we’re gonna have to take the steps to do more legitimate business,” said Ambriz, who doesn’t express bitterness over this year’s change of plans.

Revolinsky and Borgman expressed a willingness to work with the group next year if they secure a permit. They approached Top Shelf ahead of time this year to avoid confrontation the day of the event, Borgman said.

“We could just sit around and wait until Labor Day and have people show up out there with all their equipment. We could just give them a ticket and send them away and take their stuff as evidence,” he said. “But we think that’s kind of mean.”