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Melees Might Be Ignoble End for Festivals : Riot: Civic leaders, Cal Poly officials and students will begin meeting to decide the future of the Poly Royal after a weekend of violence.

April 30, 1990|MILES CORWIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Civic leaders, Cal Poly officials and the school's students plan to meet today to begin assessing the future of Poly Royal, an annual campus festival marred by two straight nights of rioting last weekend.

About 110 youths were arrested and 100 injured in the disturbances, authorities and hospital officials said. One Cal Poly student suffered a serious head injury and was listed in stable condition Sunday night at a local hospital.

Fourteen police officers were injured--12 during Friday night's riot and two during Saturday night's larger melee. One officer lost a tooth when he was hit in the face with a bottle; another suffered a broken arm.

"What we had was a full-scale riot involving thousands of students in town for a campus celebration," San Luis Obispo Police Lt. Joe Hazouri said. "It . . . escalated to a medium-scale riot Friday night and a full-scale riot Saturday night."

As a result of the violent weekend, the future of the Poly Royal Festival, a 58-year-old university tradition, is now in doubt, campus spokesman Stan Bernstein said.

"We may have to call it off for at least next year and then assess the situation," Bernstein said.

After the disturbance Friday night, which involved more than 1,000 youths, police geared up for problems Saturday. And for much of the evening, the situation was under control, authorities said.

By about midnight, however, a crowd of more than 2,000 had gathered at an intersection near the campus and became violent. The youths, many of whom were drinking, began throwing bottles into the street, breaking car windows and smashing signal lights with rocks. One group built a bonfire in the intersection, set fire to a dumpster and a motorcycle; others stole a railroad crossing sign.

Police used tear gas and high-pressure water hoses early Sunday morning to disperse the crowd.

The crowd had gathered after parties broke up at nearby fraternity houses and off-campus residences and a rock concert on campus ended.

"There were some people, totally drunk, causing major destruction as the crowd cheered them on," Cal Poly senior Kelly Hawkins said. "They were out of control."

Some students criticized the police for waiting too long to disperse the crowd, and then for using excessive force.

"Police should have been there way earlier . . . that would have cut down on a lot of problems," said Joe Hornik, a New York college student who was visiting friends. "By the time the police arrived, the crowd was too big to handle."

About 125 officers from throughout San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, dressed in full riot gear, some with police dogs, attempted to disperse the crowd.

"The officers were immediately greeted by rocks and bottles from the crowd, and only after tear gas and high-pressure fire hoses were used were the officers able to disperse the crowd," Hazouri said.

Officers cleared the streets by about 2 a.m. Sunday.

Barry Bowlds, a 24-year-old Sunnyvale man, said he saw people beaten who were not involved in the rioting. "I saw students getting whaled on who were just trying to get away," said Bowlds. "I saw one couple making out in their apartment parking lot and five cops jumped on them, hitting them with nightsticks, kicking them. . . . The whole thing was unbelievable."

Sgt. Dan Blanke, a spokesman for San Luis Obispo police, said he is not aware of any incidents of excessive police force. Asked if the police response was late, he said: "I don't want to debate that . . . the department feels the situation was handled properly."

A disturbance occurred last year at Poly Royal, but it was much smaller than this year's, San Luis Obispo Mayor Ronald Dunin said. Last year's mini-riot, he said, was the first in the history of the festival.

Poly Royal is a giant open house where students, parents and prospective students gather for a weekend. In addition to displays by the school's departments, there are concerts, rodeos and food booths scattered throughout the campus.

The mayor said the problems reflect recent changes in San Luis Obispo, one of the fastest growing counties in the state, and the popularity of Cal Poly, once a small agricultural college but now a campus with 17,000 students.

As the city, which has a population of about 41,000, and college have grown, so has Poly Royal, he said. It now attracts more than 100,000 for the weekend.

"The sheer number of people has led to some problems," Dunin said. "You've got more students and more kids who live in the area now and more kids from outside the area who are attracted to the event. Add to that more drinking . . . and you can see how problems start."

Campus spokesman Bernstein said that during the weekend event "off campus it's turning into another Palm Springs. It's almost like a tour--Palm Springs during spring break and the next month Poly Royal. We're an easy drive from both the Bay Area and L.A. . . . It's amazing how many kids come up this weekend and sleep on the floors of their friends' apartments."

Free-lance writer Drew Digby contributed to this story.

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