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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 8:02 pm | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

Isla Vistans See Constructive New Chapter with Voter-Approved Community Services District

Civic leaders hope partial self-governance will bring more freedom and structure to a community often left out of governing processes

Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District director Jacob Lebell summed up the community’s history as “Isla Vista wanting to be free so it can define itself, but being in conflict with the county, the university and authority at large.” Click to view larger
Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District director Jacob Lebell summed up the community’s history as “Isla Vista wanting to be free so it can define itself, but being in conflict with the county, the university and authority at large.”  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

A 1970s-era police gas-mask, psychedelic music posters, photos of tipis in a park and a bank engulfed in flame are all currently on display in a special research exhibit at the UC Santa Barbara Library.

Isla Vista: Building a Community, 1970–2016 tells the continuing story of how one of the most densely-populated communities in the country has channeled its often-countercultural passions into a sense of place. 

Roughly 23,000 residents, most of them college students, live in the 0.54-square-mile town nestled up to UCSB and Goleta. Though its most turbulent days are in the past — anger primarily over the Vietnam War and police brutality culminated 46 years ago in the razing of a Bank of America — an abiding sense of being unique but marginalized has persisted.

UCSB’s exhibit chronicles how I.V.’s unique milieu, unusual demographics and an enduring dissatisfaction with outside authority have made self-governance the dream of several generations of Isla Vistans and has resulted in a handful of unsuccessful attempts at cityhood.

Jacob Lebell, an Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District director who has lived in I.V. nearly all his life, summed up the community’s overarching historical narrative as, “Isla Vista wanting to be free so it can define itself, but being in conflict with the county, the university and authority at large.”

In November, that dream came as close to reality as it ever has when residents voted overwhelmingly for partial self-governance by passing Measure E — the creation of a community services district — with 87.3 percent of the vote.

Though it’s not incorporation, the CSD’s governing board is authorized to provide and fund a variety of services that have traditionally been taken care of by the county.

A crucial utility-user tax that would provide most of its funding, however, fell just short of the two-thirds margin needed to pass.

Ballot Issue Yes votes % in favor No votes % against
Measure E, creating a CSD 5,651 87.14 834 12.86
Measure F, utility user tax for a CSD 4,039 61.22 2,559 38.78

Leading the pro-Measure E and F campaign was a coalition of students and Isla Vistans backed by the office of then-state Assemblyman Das Williams.

Opposing the measures — the tax in particular — were I.V. landlords, who argued it would translate to higher rents.

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

Winning the inaugural seats on Nov. 8 were UCSB students Spencer Brandt and Natalie Jordan, software developer Jay Freeman, I.V. Recreation and Parks District director Ethan Bertrand and local pastor Jon-Stephen Hedges.

Especially in the wake of 2014's Deltopia riot and fatal mass shooting, the CSD had become the clearest symbol of a renewed effort at community betterment.

Das Williams helped spearhead the Isla Vista self-governance effort with Assembly Bill 3 and the November ballot measures to create a community services district. Click to view larger
Das Williams helped spearhead the Isla Vista self-governance effort with Assembly Bill 3 and the November ballot measures to create a community services district.  (Contributed photo)

“A lot of people both inside I.V. and, to a large extent, throughout the rest of the county recognized that ‘Wow, we really need to lean in and engage and support change in Isla Vista and organize if we’re going to address a lot of these big problems,’” Lebell said.

But rather than channel its renewed energy into another cityhood attempt, Isla Vistans, in an effort spearheaded by Williams (himself a former Isla Vistan), went for the “lower hanging fruit,” as Lebell put it.

The result was Assembly Bill 3, which was approved by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2015.

With enough money and resources, the CSD will 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.

The utility user tax, which would have exempted low-income households and UCSB, would have applied to services that include electricity, gas, water, and sewage/trash, and would have generated an estimated $512,000 a year.

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

Jay Freeman was elected to serve on the first-ever Isla Vista Community Services District board. Click to view larger
Jay Freeman was elected to serve on the first-ever Isla Vista Community Services District board.  (Contributed photo)

The tax, the newly elected board members came to realize, was going to be crucial to simply running their meetings, the first of which must be held within 45 days of the CSD’s formation, officially March 1.

“Essentially, our super-top-priority during the first couple meetings is going to have to be how to have money to run meetings,” said Freeman, who was extensively involved in the CSD-creation process and a candidate in June’s primary for the Third District county supervisor seat.

UCSB’s $200,000 contributions likely won’t go toward that.

The memorandum of understanding with the university states that the money must be spent on projects that are mutually agreed upon, Freeman said.

Rather than staff and administrative overhead expenses, he said, the university prefers its money go toward projects and community resources — and ones that don’t duplicate projects and resources the university itself already has.

Making preliminary planning even more difficult is California’s Brown Act, which requires noticed public meetings if enough members of a government body get together for a quorum.

Freeman said he and his colleagues cannot even hammer out plans by passing on ideas one board member at a time in a “serial meeting.”

“I’ve got some vague ideas, but I’m not certain what the actual limitations will be at what I guess will be a fun first meeting,” he said. “It might be the second meeting, because we really need to concentrate on how to have a third meeting.”

Jacob Lebell serves on the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District board. Click to view larger
Jacob Lebell serves on the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District board.  (Facebook photo)

Exercising its influence over policing or financing a study for a parking-permit program are two powers that the board may be able to finance with UCSB money.

Running facilities like the planned community center on Embarcadero del Mar could also potentially be paid for with that income, Freeman said, as could projects addressing infrastructure like sidewalks and light, which are expensive and already being tackled by the county.

There has also been talk of crowdfunding or applying for grants as ways to boost the CSD’s nascent coffers.

I.V. has until Jan. 1, 2023 to pass the utility user tax before the CSD is dissolved.

Freeman said UCSB and the Board of Supervisors will get the ball rolling on their picks for the board in early 2017.

Board members’ hope, he added, is that newly-elected Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, in whose district I.V. is located, will be one of those picks.

Perhaps the most crucial power the financially-handicapped board can exercise, Lebell said, is financing the operations of a municipal advisory council — an idea board members have also echoed.

The council, which would have to be created by the Board of Supervisors, would advise the board on issues facing Isla Vista, amplifying the community’s voice and concerns, they say.

“I see Isla Vista being able to engage with the surrounding county on a bigger and better level because of that,” Lebell said.      

In a community accustomed to higher powers making its decisions, helping to craft new policing strategies, Lebell added, is perhaps the board’s greatest opportunity to galvanize constructive public engagement with the CSD.

Student policing programs like UCIV, where partiers receive warnings about potential violations by peers instead of receiving an immediate citation, have already proven successful in reducing citations and mending the often-rickety bridges between students and law enforcement.

Lebell hopes the CSD will “build a culture and a civil society here where you come into Isla Vista and you’re going to change — and one of the changes is becoming an involved community member.”

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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