News of Picnic Day’s potential demise quickly spread around campus over the past week and students are responding in full force.
A Facebook group titled “Save Picnic Day” attracted over 10,000 students within the first week of its creation and hundreds of wall-posts quickly crowded its page.
First-year communication and psychology double major Sam Sugarman, the group’s creator, said the general sentiment of the group’s members seems to be the same.
“The vast majority, if not 100 percent, feel that to eliminate a 96-year-old tradition is an unnecessary step that the school should not resort to,” Sugarman said. “However, many members do feel that precautions need to be taken by the city and university to ensure that the event does not get out of hand.”
Complaints of increased violent behavior, vandalism and public drunkenness during this year’s picnic day resulted in a move by the university and the city to re-examine the event and its continuation.
Members of the Davis community, including business owners, the chamber of commerce and the police department will meet with university representatives on May 10, during which the problems with this year’s event will take center stage.
“What happened this year was a big deal,” said Gary Sandy, the university’s director of local government relations. “I am only one part of the meeting’s group and I cannot prejudge what the group will decide, but all options are definitely on the table.”
Despite an outcry from many Davis business owners, who were forced to break up fights and clean up vomit outside of their shops, many say they are not looking to permanently cancel the event.
“The tradition of Picnic Day is important to our organization and to many in the community,” said Joy Cohan, director of the Davis Downtown Business Association (DDBA). “We hope to work collaboratively to find solutions to keep the event alive, but it can’t be alive in the way that it was this year, or even the past several years.”
Though the DDBA has made past attempts to work with the university and remedy some of the problems associated with Picnic Day, Cohan said that the event’s sheer size has prevented a lot of progress.
“The situation has simply gotten too large for just the university or just the DDBA to solve,” she said. “We need to bring the city in and perhaps look at ordinances and other regulations that will enable the police department to be more effective during the event.”
The May 10 meeting will be the first of a series of collaborative efforts between the city and university, Sandy said.
“Nothing will be decided at the first meeting,” he said. “This is just the start of a lengthy process and as of now we are only forming a planning committee … a whole tier of decision-making will be made later on.”
Due to space restrictions, the May 10 meeting will not be open to students or the general public, but student representatives will be present to voice their concerns.
“I am not sure what the city is advocating, but regardless, the city does not control the university,” said ASUCD president Jack Zwald, who will attend the meeting later this month. “Picnic Day is funded by the students and at the end of the day, any decisions must include city officials, campus administration and student leaders. There needs to be a consensus or else we will have this conversation every year.”
Former ASUCD vice president Chris Dietrich, who will also attend the meeting as a member of the UC Davis student liaison commission, said that the problem is largely due to both the increasing size of the event and the amount of individuals outside the Davis community in attendance.
“As the event has grown, it has gotten a reputation as a big party,” he said. “We are seeing higher numbers of people not connected to our campus coming in and just wanting to get drunk at Davis.”
Though problems in previous years led to discussion over whether to scale back on this year’s Picnic Day, Dietrich said it was never a serious option.
“In looking at issues with Picnic Day, the idea to take a year off from the event was brought up but it was never really considered,” he said. “It is more of an option on the table now but I think it is a last resort option – there are lots of other things we need to try first.”
Alumni also responded to the Picnic Day controversy with their own “Save Picnic Day” Facebook group, which attracted around 4,500 members. Many expressed sadness that off-campus partying was endangering the future of the event.
“I spent my whole day on campus and I only saw thousands of people having a good, wholesome time,” said Tom Stallard, a 1968 alumnus and this year’s parade marshal. “Picnic Day is a wonderful event that does a lot of good and I don’t want to see it jeopardized by the inexcusable, alcohol-fueled behavior in the town.”
Stallard is meeting with the president of the Cal Aggie Alumni Association and other members to look at ways that alumni can become more engaged in the event and ensure that behavior remains responsible.
“Other campuses have lost their open houses because of bad behavior,” he said. “We can do better. We will have to contemplate significant restrictions for the event, but we have a tradition of being a responsible campus community and I have great confidence in our university.”
ERICA LEE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.