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SLO spent $20,000 on controversial Mardi Gras ads 

And with only one week left until the big weekend, the city still has another 10 grand for its media messages

$5,000 went to television. $7,000 for radio. $3,000 for newspapers. $2,000 to build the web site. $3,000 to print and distribute the hundreds of posters and thousands of door hangers. “It’s simple: Mardi Gras weekend in SLO will be different this year,� the ads read. “Out-of-town visitors will not be tolerated. Gatherings … near campus and downtown will not be tolerated.�

The ads, which were signed by “the community of San Luis Obispo,� were actually paid for by the city of San Luis Obispo and commissioned by the city police department.

In the weeks the ads have run, they’ve angered a lot of people who felt that it would drive tourism dollars away from the city. Many, who wrote letters to the editor at different newspapers, thought the wording was antagonistic and over-the-top.

And now there’s a new television ad featuring a Cal Poly athlete, the Cuesta College student body president, council member/local restaurant and bar owner Paul Brown, and, despite the apparent conflict of interest, KSBY anchor/reporter Adrienne Moore.

“Stay at home. Take the weekend off,� the script reads. “Stay away from large group gatherings on streets. Don’t invite friends to visit for Mardi Gras.�

Over at the Chamber of Commerce — which has nothing to do with the campaign — CEO and president Dave Garth had heard from about 10 business owners about the ads; about half of the responses were negative.

But Garth, who won’t take an official stance on the campaign, thinks that a reasonable visitor to the city will see the ads as an attempt to make the city safer, not drive peaceful tourists away.

As for the long term, he said, “it’s very difficult to predict if [this ad is] going to hurt or help. Incrementally it probably makes very little difference.�

The ads aren’t the only way the city is “reaching out� to college students around the county, region, and state.

Rob Bryn, SLOPD’s spokesman, said they’ve also sent letters to the superintendents at 47 school districts from Simi Valley to Paso Robles. They’ve also sent the ads to the newspaper editors and student affairs departments at state universities around the state. They chose the universities based on arrests made last year, and then, as Bryn put it, “shotgunned� the rest across California.

So far, the public response to the police department has been about 50 percent positive, 50 percent negative.

But to those who don’t like the ads, Bryn asks that those people look at the bigger picture.

“The negative effects of a riot will do more to affect tourism then a 30-second television commercial that says don’t invite your friends for Mardi Gras,� he said.

“But you can’t send a mixed message,� he continued. “You can’t say that this is a family event. You can’t say, ‘It’s okay to come, but be nice when you’re here.’ That doesn’t work. That does not work.�

As for the next few years, Bryn said to expect more of the same type of approach.

“This is probably going to happen for the next two or three years or until such time that this is no longer a destination event.� ³

Staff Writer Abraham Hyatt can be reached at

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