[Noozhawk’s note from Sarah Ettman-Sterner, Green Hawk interactive producer: Green Hawk provides a forum for me to reach readers with current information, news, trends and views on the state of the environment and sustainable living. Unlike some traditional news sources in print, on TV or the Web, the objective is to position rich, interactive content focused on Santa Barbara’s “green scene” on the front lines of Noozhawk, instead of burying it in the back, out of sight and out of mind. Green Hawk is also the place to feature the thoughts and opinions of young people interested in protecting the environment, students who are poised to inherit the Earth and the responsibilities that go with this endeavor. It is my pleasure to introduce you to and welcome Emily Williams, a first-year environmental studies major at UCSB. As a Green Hawk intern and contributor, Emily fills a valuable niche. She is Green Hawk’s eyes and ears — on the “prowl” at UCSB and on the scene in Isla Vista, seeking out stories and activities to share with our community. Originally from San Francisco’s South Bay area, she grew up with both a Northern and Southern California eco-mentality. Emily’s interest in the environment evolved from her annual summer visits to the beach. When she’s not in classes or focusing on the environmental issues that surround us, Emily says she “loves sunsets and long walks on the beach. Other than that, it’s all about music!”]

Halloween 2009 has come and gone; the infamous bacchanal celebration in Isla Vista is now a faint memory in the minds of students and the community. Yet only about a month after the event, students are already abuzz about next year’s plans.

Emily Williams

Emily Williams

According to a recent article in UCSB’s Daily Nexus, “Isla Vista’s notoriety shot up after Playboy Magazine declared Halloween weekend one of the nation’s best parties in a 1991 issue. While this same Playboy Magazine article later turned out to be a myth, 1992’s Halloween was record-breaking at the time, attracting an estimated 40,000 people to Isla Vista and resulting in over 1,000 arrests over the weekend.”

As an environmental studies major and a student new to the infamous tradition, I wanted to find a way to share my observations and perspective with the community. What did I discover? That the annual fall event brings out the best — and, sadly, the worst — in people.

I walked Del Playa, like a normal UCSB student, on Friday and Saturday night, checking out the party scene and seeing all of the amazing costumes. My, was it ever packed! You were lucky if you could walk more than 10 steps without being bumped into. Anonymous derriere-groping and passing high-fives were to be expected. Police officers patrolled the streets, Community Service Officers lined the sidewalks, and officers on horseback held the intersections between DP and other streets. The violence was kept to a minimum. Yet with all the law enforcement out in force, no one thought to have a “litter enforcement” in action.

I learned that good intentions can lead to unintended consequences. Volunteers handed out mini plastic-packaged bags of Goldfish crackers to partyers, while others pushed wheelbarrows full of plastic bottles of water to quench the thirst of cotton-mouthed and alcohol-doused tongues.

Walking down Del Playa, you had to watch your feet to be sure not to step on the sea of plastic — red cups, Goldfish bags, the potential for twisting your ankle on a water bottle or, heaven forbid, step on an open condom. That is the absolute worst kind of litter — especially when stuck to the bottom of your shoe!

Sunday, the morning after, was the post-Halloween cleanup, or “Clean-O-Ween.” Starting at 9:30 a.m., Adopt-A-Block, a program of the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District, got clubs from UCSB to help pick up the trashed streets. The program offered incentives such as community service hours and coupons from Woodstocks Pizza and IV Drip coffeehouse.

Participants had to sign a waiver before beginning the cleanup, releasing Adopt-A-Block from any liability for any diseases or injuries. That was my firsthand view of Isla Vista at its worst — a remnant of its finest night. Daunting? Yes. Insurmountable? No. Armed with latex gloves and trash bags, the groups set out on their mission.

I was among the group assigned the grossest search-and-destroy mission. I joined the EAB, UCSB’s Environmental Affairs Board, at 11 a.m. for its part of the Adopt-A-Block cleanup. We were about eight-people strong, and within one-and-a-half hours had filled about 13 heavy-duty trash bags from a couple of blocks of Del Playa. What we found was an eclectic mix of junk and former treasures. Bags were filled with red cups, used and unused condoms, empty bags of Goldfish crackers, misplaced costume pieces, a golf club, a broken toy gun and a corroded car battery. It came down to a game of rock-paper-scissors to decide who would pick up the used feminine sanitary product. How in the world did that end up in the street?

When I asked my fellow EAB members why they found it so important to clean up Isla Vista after a night like that, they all had the same answer: “Our night, our responsibility,” as so aptly described by Teal Riege, a third-year student and environmental education chair of the EAB.

Yet isn’t every weekend “our night, our responsibility”? So much attention is paid to the craziness of Halloween weekend that people often forget that Isla Vista is trashed every weekend. Students, exhausted from the week’s schoolwork and dying to let off steam, flood Isla Vista on Friday and Saturday nights with the same mob mentality as Halloween, except on a smaller scale.

Clean-O-Ween volunteers find local residents eager to help clean up the streets

Clean-O-Ween volunteers find local residents eager to help clean up the streets. (Emily Williams / Noozhawk photo)

It’s ironic that UCSB students — students of a school with one of the best environmental studies programs in the world — are the very people responsible for Isla Vista’s dirty reputation.

Let’s face the facts, people: Isla Vista just isn’t designed for huge parties.

The college town is beautifully located right along the coast, with Del Playa running parallel to the ocean. This is the wrong location for a party town. With each weekend that passes, more and more garbage accumulates in Isla Vista. Now that the winds and rains are picking up in Santa Barbara — don’t be tricked by the “sunny California” reputation — all that litter finds its new home in the ocean. People don’t acknowledge the land-sea interface. Contrary to common belief, there is no wall between the land and the ocean. Trash has a way of finding its way to the water.

It affects everyone and everything — the beauty that is Santa Barbara is littered with the waste that is the party life. Surfers run across floating debris, people cut their feet on broken glass bottles buried in the sand and marine life is killed by eating or getting caught in the floating plastic.

Russel Russo, a fourth-year UCSB student, hiking coordinator and member of the EAB, recognizes that “it is important to the community” that we keep the beaches clean. The beaches are not the property of the students of UCSB, but rather the community. They belong to the students and the families of Isla Vista.

So who are we to litter so indiscriminately?

The town sits atop beautiful cliffs. The cliffs attract romantic couples and students needing to get away from the mass social gatherings that occur every Thursday through Sunday. Yet these prime cliffs are easily eroded. Every weekend, the cliffs are trampled by hundreds of residents, unwittingly aiding in the erosion process. What happens when that erosion finally gives way? UCSB already has suffered the deaths of multiple students in falls from the cliffs. These easily accessible areas with unstable soil may have contributed to the unintended, fatal accidents.

The sad part is that the deaths could have been avoided, if only the natural vegetation holding the soil together hadn’t been trampled and such stress hadn’t been laid on the cliff face. The intoxication of students and incessant erosion of the cliffs are a fatal combination of factors.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. There is hope.

As shown by efforts from such organizations as Adopt-A-Block, the EAB and the Surfrider Foundation, there are organizations that commit themselves to keeping the Isla Vista lifestyle sustainable. Cleaning projects are conducted every week, for special occasions such as Halloween and for general maintenance.

Better yet, the community can avoid the need for after-party cleanups by people picking up after themselves. What a concept! Young, so-called adults embracing personal responsibility.

At lunch with the EAB after our Clean-O-Ween participation, the members came to a consensus that everyone picking up their own trash would significantly cut down on the litter on the beach and trash in the ocean, and make for a much nicer stroll along the street the morning after.

This also goes for avoiding the cliff faces. What better way to avoid further erosion than stopping the nightly trample? If people would walk along the paths laid out by the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District instead of pulling dangerous off-path stunts, the integrity of the cliffs and the lives of students could be preserved.

However, these solutions will work only if UCSB students and Isla Vista residents regain a green mentality. Sure, blow off some steam on the weekends. After all, you worked hard during the week. But it’s always worthwhile to keep a sense of eco-friendliness and to care for the community when it’s time to party.

Isla Vista, this is your town, your community, your responsibility. Take care of it.

— Emily Williams is an environmental studies major at UCSB.