The party’s over, again
City’s latest efforts effectively put an end to Labor Day tubing tradition
That was quick.
The city of Chico’s latest party-is-over campaign was more effective than anyone involved had planned. Fewer than 700 floaters hit the river on Labor Day, an enormous drop-off from last year’s approximately 20,000.
“We’re still reeling from the shock,” said Labor Day River Task Force Information Officer Janet Upton. “We were all very surprised. … Frankly, [Labor Day] was slower than a normal summer weekend.”
In the “Incident Objectives” document passed out in the morning, task force agencies were told to expect “15,000-plus tubers.” The Parks Department tally for put-ins at Irvine Finch by 4:30 p.m. on Monday was 663.
With no parking allowed over a five-mile stretch of Hwy 32 leading up to the Irvine Finch put-in from both directions, and the closing of River Road around Scotty’s Boat Landing—from Hwy 32 to West Sac—just getting into and out of the river was pre-designed to be a major pain. But the big deterrent seemed to be the city copping its own Halloween blueprint for taking the party out back and shooting it in the head.
Fed up with the pressures the popular annual ritual puts on the city of Chico, local agencies and the environment, the city unleashed a TV and print ad campaign proclaiming zero tolerance for bad behavior. The campaign also warned that life jackets would be required on all boats (but not tubes), and that a policy of no alcohol consumption would be enforced at Irvine Finch.
“We made a significant effort to really inform people,” said Lt. Mike Weber, the Chico Police Department’s point man for the Labor Day campaign. Asked what the mood in the department was, given the extremely low turnout, Weber said, “I think the word I would use is ‘appreciation.’ We’re very happy with the community’s response to make Labor Day safer.
“I think this community wants to be known for its quality of life, [and] not really to be known for a place to come abuse alcohol and carry on.”
Other than the agencies involved in helping the Chico PD with the weekend’s enforcement—Butte and Glenn Sheriff’s Departments, CHP, CDF, among others—Weber never made it clear who he was referring to as he kept coming back to the word “community.”
A Chico PD press release confirmed that this year’s Labor Day weekend was calmer than years past, with most activity occurring in South Campus student areas. A total of 119 arrests were made over the weekend, as compared to 173 last year. Sixty-one drunk-in-public and 12 driving-under-the-influence arrests were made.
Anyone familiar with the typical local Labor Day climate would not have recognized the scene this year.. After only a three-minute wait at the CHP sobriety checkpoint just past the “honk if you can’t stop” Mexican restaurant on Hwy 32, the usual parade of tubes and 12-packs was nowhere to be seen. There were more police, sheriff and CHP cruisers than civilian traffic headed to the river.
The scene along the closed River Road was the same, save for a few sun-drenched stragglers hiking back to their vehicles.
The parking ban in full effect, a couple of $5 pay-to-park lots sprung up. By mid-afternoon, the lot set up by Hamilton High boosters in a freshly chopped sunflower field had a few dozen cars, while a vacant lot in Hamilton City had lured no one.
As late as 4 p.m., the lot at Irvine Finch wasn’t even half full, and much of it was taken up by emergency and law enforcement vehicles.
At the busiest times there were at most 200 people on the river at once, mostly on inner tubes and the popular throw-away orange rafts. Beer Can Beach, normally party central, had a couple hundred gawkers standing around looking disappointed as a few dozen bump-and-grinders danced atop the big pink flamingo dance barge brought all the way up from Santa Rosa by Characters truck club.
Chico State freshman Veronica Saavedra, disappointed at the drop-off in tubers from the previous year, summed up her party’s assessment: “It’s dead.”
As early as noon, agency leaders began sending troops home. State Parks Lt. Mike Feheling had sent all his out-of-area units home, as had Phil Revolinsky, operations commander for Glen County Sheriff’s Department. And just after 3 p.m., an announcement came over the police radio: “As of 15:05 hours, river communications will cease operations.”