UC Davis bills its annual Picnic Day celebration as an open house. It dresses its sprawling green campus in ribbons and balloons, lays out a smorgasbord of food and beverage and invites just about anyone to make themselves at home.
Unfortunately, not everyone is a perfect guest.
The event, which marked its 101st year Saturday, is a source of pride for many at the university and in the surrounding community.
But it also has a history of rowdy, and often dangerous, behavior that prompted vigilant efforts from campus and city police to keep wayward picnic-goers in line Saturday.
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“(Picnic Day) has many faces,” said Matt Carmichael chief of the UC Davis Police Department. “It has the face of the evening at the downtown bars, but it has a lot more than just that.”
Carmichael said a slew of outside teams served as backup for handling the large crowds this weekend, including police forces from other University of California schools and the Yolo County Bomb Squad. Campus police created a new safety video this year, and worked with student leaders to talk to Greek organizations about safe partying. In recent years, the city of Davis’ police force has doubled the fines for alcohol, noise, public urination and smoking in the downtown area directly surrounding campus.
The increased vigilance comes after some incidents in recent years. In 2010, city police arrested 33 people. More than 500 emergency calls were made – twice the number from the year before. In 2011, a UC Davis student died at a post-Picnic Day party. In 2014, the city reported 36 arrests on Picnic Day, down from 42 the year before.
As of 5 p.m Saturday, 22 campus citations had been given for alcohol consumption and no arrests had been made, Carmichael said. As of 9:30 p.m., Davis Police Lt. Tom Waltz said some arrests had been made but could not provide an exact figure.
About 75,000 attended the all-day event Saturday, which a board of 65 students began planning nearly a year in advance. On campus, highlights included an arena-style dachshund derby, a liquid nitrogen ice cream demonstration and, new as of this year, a kayaking race in one of the gymnasium’s pools.
Off campus, local bars were bursting with patrons as early as 11 a.m., and drink specials continued through the night. Attendees who could stand played beer pong on fraternity house lawns. Others wobbled around the neighborhood, or sought recovery naps on whim.
“On Picnic Day, people are going to see a lot of families having fun, and they’re also going to see a lot of drunk kids,” Jenny Haller, a class of 2011 UC Davis alum who returns for the event each year. While relaxing with friends at a bar Saturday, she reminisced about milking a cow during her sophomore Picnic Day. “Being on campus can be a much more pleasant experience than being downtown.”
Grace Scott, chair of the student board of directors, said she believes alcohol-related incidents are becoming less common, and that for most students, the day is just about celebrating community.
“For my friends, Picnic Day is a celebration of being a student and having the opportunity to be part of something that’s so wonderful,” she said. “We couldn’t have this event if downtown Davis didn’t want us to. It’s really the support of those businesses, and students. It really is a labor of love.”
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Picnic Day by the Numbers
On the quad:
200 formal Picnic Day events on campus
67 entrants in the Picnic Day parade
45 dachshunds in the annual Doxie Derby dog race
500 students on the Picnic Day safety pledge
On the streets:
21 kegs ordered for Picnic Day weekend at the City Hall bar downtown
50 downtown businesses joining in Picnic Day accord
0.35 blood-alcohol content, highest of the day detected at the forensic science department’s free Breathalyzer booth
The city arrested a combined total of 78 people for Picnic Days 2013 and 2014.