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Tuesday, March 26 , 2019, 2:45 am | Fair 48º


With Candidate Filing Period Over, Isla Vista Enters Final Stretch in Self-Governance Push

If approved by I.V. voters in November, a community services district could wield a number of powers currently exercised by Santa Barbara County

The proposed Isla Vista Community Services District would be governed by a five-member board. Click to view larger
The proposed Isla Vista Community Services District would be governed by a five-member board. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

Self-governance has been a dream of many current Isla Vista residents, as well as several generations who came before them.

A number of self-governance and cityhood attempts in the 1970s and early ’80s failed, but fresh life was breathed into the dream in late 2014, when Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, introduced Assembly Bill 3.

The bill, which was approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last October, proposes a community services district for the densely populated, half-square-mile town, which is home primarily to students attending UC Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara City College.

A community services district is not incorporation, but its governing board is authorized to provide and fund a variety of services that, for Isla Vista, traditionally have been taken care of by Santa Barbara County.

The district, however, must be approved by I.V. residents, and with the Nov. 8 election less than three months away, the long journey to mostly self-governance is finally in the homestretch.

“The CSD provided for in AB3 will be the foundation for fixing some of the problems that have been left to fester for far too long,” Spencer Brandt, a UCSB student running for a seat on the community services district board, told Noozhawk in an email.

“There is nothing set in stone that says Isla Vista must be this way,” he said. “The exploitation of tenants, out-of-control street parking, an environment that can feel very unsafe, and a lack of representation to address these issues — an IVCSD can begin to remedy this.”

In April, the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission approved eight initial services the district may provide, although the board of directors must apply to the county again in order to begin authorizing funding.

The community services district would have the power to finance the operations of a municipal advisory council; create a landlord-tenant mediation program; finance operations of an area planning commission; exercise the powers of a parking district; contract with the county or UC Regents or both for additional police services; acquire and maintain community facilities; acquire, construct and maintain infrastructure; and remove graffiti.

“Many of the powers that the Isla Vista community services district has access to are powers that they cannot unilaterally apply,” said Jay Freeman, who, along with Brandt, is running for one of two four-year terms on the board.

“They do not have the power to create a municipal advisory council, they do not have the power to create an area planning commission, they only have the power to fund them,” he told Noozhawk. “The county actually has to enact these entities.”

Freeman, who has been extensively involved in the CSD-creation process, is a software developer who ran an unsuccessful campaign in June for the Third District seat on the county Board of Supervisors.

He said, however, that the ability to contract for additional police services, such as an officer position focused on educating the community, will allow the board to tailor policing to what it believes will be most effective for addressing I.V.’s unique needs.

Ethan Bertrand, an Isla Vista Recreation and Park District director who has been involved with the community services district​ push and is running for a two-year board term, was optimistic about the CSD’s prospects.

“Hundreds of UCSB students and Isla Vista residents have been registered to vote in the past two weeks, and many are excited about the opportunity to vote in this historic election for Isla Vista self-governance,” he told Noozhawk in an email.

With numerous temporary students living in Isla Vista for the summer, Freeman said, the push to get the community services district and tax passed won’t begin in earnest until more relatively permanent students arrive in the fall.

A simple majority of Isla Vistans need to vote for the CSD to enact it, but residents must muster a two-thirds majority to pass the 8 percent utility user tax that is crucial to funding it.

“If everyone plays their part, we will be sure to pass both measures, giving residents significantly higher levels of local service and representation,” Bertrand said.

That tax, for which low-income households and UCSB would be exempt, would apply to services that include electricity, gas, water, sewer and cable TV, and would generate an estimated $512,000 a year.

UCSB has pledged an additional $200,000 every year from 2017 to 2024, at which point renewal would be considered.

According to LAFCO, the roughly $18 million the county spends on services in Isla Vista each year results in an $8 million annual shortfall of locally generated taxes paid by the county.

“I think it’s just important to balance (students’) expectations with the amount of funding that we’re getting,” said Andrew Gabriel Pragin, a community organizer running for a two-year term who was involved in CSD lobbying efforts.

With limited revenue, he said, the district will have to prioritize what services to provide from the get-go.

Fixing Isla Vista’s capital improvement needs and providing services like managing a parking district will be expensive and take considerable time, Pragin said.

Governing the CSD will be a seven-member board of directors, five of whom will be elected by Isla Vista voters, one appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and one by UCSB’s chancellor, currently Henry Yang.

Eight Isla Vistans are running for the elected slots.

Four of those five positions, along with the two appointed ones, have four-year terms, while the other elected position has a two-year term.

For this first election, however, two of those four four-year terms will be truncated to two-year terms.

The candidates emphasized the need for establishing entities and programs that make a direct impact on residents’ lives and amplify their voices, such as a landlord-tenant mediation program and a municipal advisory council, the latter of which would advise the Board of Supervisors on issues facing Isla Vista.

Running for the two temporary two-year terms are Pragin, UCSB students Natalie Jordan and Michael Kile, and Father Jon-Stephen Hedges, a local pastor. Running against Bertrand for the permanent two-year slot is UCSB student Joel Ruiz.

Bertrand, Brandt, Hedges and Jordan are running together on the same slate.

Should voters approve Measures E and F, the Isla Vista community services district officially will be formed on March 1.

Under its conditions of approval, LAFCO would conduct a municipal service review after one year to assess the district and to determine how well it is providing services.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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