Party people

Police pressure hasn’t deterred group’s party promotion

From left: Grant Richards, Daren Satow, Shiloh Witcosky, Marcelo Ambriz and Thomas Canepa are a handful of the Chico State students who run Top Shelf Productions.

From left: Grant Richards, Daren Satow, Shiloh Witcosky, Marcelo Ambriz and Thomas Canepa are a handful of the Chico State students who run Top Shelf Productions.

Photo By Anthony Siino

Students are coming back to Chico for the spring semester, and one local company is ready to welcome them with a massive party—a “Welcome Back to Chico Rager,” as the company describes it on Facebook.

That company is Ambriz Top Shelf Productions, its event is “Winterfest 2011,” and more than 550 people have already indicated they are attending on Friday, Jan. 28.

This isn’t the first time Top Shelf has hosted a party with hundreds of attendees, and it won’t be the last, said CEO Marcelo Ambriz, who described the outfit’s mission as promoting local music and hosting parties. The company is run by 13 full-time Chico State students and has been successful using social networking to attract large numbers of college-age people to events over the past couple of years.

In doing so, they’ve drawn criticism from the Chico Police Department, which pushed back against the company last semester in a way Ambriz thinks crossed a line.

Not so, said Chief Mike Maloney. His department acted responsibly.

“Were we looking to apply pressure? Absolutely,” Maloney said. “Why were we looking to apply pressure? In the furtherance of public safety.”

Last semester the CPD encouraged Ambriz to pull the plug on a campaign inviting people to town for Halloween. A Facebook posting indicated that nearly 7,000 people were planning to party in Chico over that weekend.

After unsuccessful attempts to contact the group to discuss police concerns, the department took a different approach to make its position clear: “I did call his landlord and ask, ‘Hey, can you, as a community member, just let him know how you feel as a community member about what Top Shelf is doing with this Facebook page,’ ” said Lt. Linda Dye, a CPD veteran. “And that’s what his landlord did.”

Dye noted that most of the invitations were sent to out-of-towners, “which is completely contrary to the direction, wishes, needs of the city of Chico and its community.”

Ambriz maintains that the page was meant to be a forum for people to find or promote house parties over the Halloween weekend. He noted that the invitation encouraged participants to stay safe.

Maloney doesn’t see any good coming from “come-one, come-all” party promotions, and he doesn’t put much stock in the group’s safety warnings: “In their mind, they’re not in conflict with public safety because of a one-sentence caveat they had on their page that said ‘Be sure and be safe!’ Well, my perspective on that is: That’s crap.”

He also doesn’t mince words when it comes to what he sees as the department’s response: “We’re looking to mitigate an atmosphere of these out-of-control problems, and Top Shelf Productions, whoever or whatever they are, has presented a challenge to us in doing this,” he said, speaking in his office at the Chico Police Department.

Top Shelf is run out of the residence Ambriz shares with other Top Shelf officers. The Ivy Street apartment is typical of an all-male college abode. A Scarface poster hangs from a wall in a room with mismatched couches, and empty liquor bottles sit neatly atop a bookshelf.

During a recent interview, Ambriz explained that he registered the company for tax identification in 2009, but noted that he had been doing work with the company for at least a year prior to becoming “legitimate.” He started it simply to promote his rap group at the time, The False Profitz. But the party side grew and became a separate effort.

One of the latest events, a large house party with live bands, women’s mud wrestling and DJs called “Oktoberfest 2010,” boasted an attendance of at least 800 people, possibly more than 1,000, said Thomas Canepa, who serves as the head of security.

“Bottom line is, uh, we’re just trying to reach out to the people who, you know, are interested, and we’re trying to give them a good time and see what’s good with life,” said Canepa, who was obviously intoxicated during the interview.

Ambriz insisted that, because the company did not specifically promote any single party or location on its Facebook page, the CPD could not force them to take the Halloween posting down. Still, about a week before the holiday, after being contacted by their property manager, the group did pull it offline.

The students say they believe the CPD went too far.

“I definitely feel like [our rights] were infringed upon,” Ambriz said, “but, I mean, it’s for the better of future relations with them.”

Maloney said this type of approach is standard for his department, which emphasizes community involvement in promoting public safety.

“Where we may not have the ability to regulate influence over these young guys, certainly the person who owns the property, where they are apparently conducting a business, could,” he said. “That’s very reasonable from my perspective, and it’s not at all inappropriate.”

Top Shelf officers have yet to announce where Winterfest 2011 will take place. Shiloh Witcosky, chief operating officer, said the location will be posted at the last minute to keep competitors on their toes. The event is advertised to include live performances, beer-pong tables and a hookah tent.

Maloney said CPD will crash the party only if it becomes a public-safety issue.

Ambriz said he’s confident the party is within legal boundaries. “If we were doing anything that would worry them, they would definitely come forward and let us know their concerns,” he said in a phone interview this week.