Bluff in Isla Vista.
Santa Barbara County Supervisor Laura Capps’ eight-point plan to improve bluff safety in Isla Vista proposes higher fencing as well as shrubbery to prevent fence climbing. (Rebecca Caraway / Noozhawk photo)

On Tuesday the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the recommendation to raise the mandatory height requirement for fences and railings along the bluffs in Isla Vista from 3.5-4 feet to 6 feet. 

The 6-foot requirement will be for both county property along the bluffs and private residential property on the bluffs. The board also approved a waiver on permitting fees for property owners adding or raising fencing along the bluffs. 

County staff will return to the board in the future with recommendations on landscaping, lighting, and signage options for along the bluffs. 

Numerous community members, as well as friends and families of cliff fall victims spoke during public comment to share their support of raising fencing height and encourage further prevention efforts. 

The recommendation to raise the fencing height requirement came from Supervisor Laura Capps’ eight point safety plan, which she developed along with property owners, the Isla Vista Community Services District, Associated Students of UCSB, I.V. Safe, County Parks, County Planning and Development, I.V. Foot Patrol, and families who have lost children who fell from the cliffs. 

Capps’ announced her plan shortly after the death of Benjamin “Benny” Schurmer, a 19-year-old Santa Barbara City College student who died after falling from the Isla Vista cliffs over Labor Day weekend.

“I’m not sitting here with some belief that one thing is going to prevent all future deaths,” Capps said during her presentation to the board on Tuesday. “I’m simply saying let’s try to do all of these things because the combination will hopefully work together to make Isla Vista bluffs safe and not a place for fatalities.”

Isla Vista bluffs.
A sign warns people of the cliffs on the other side of fencing along the Isla Vista bluffs. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)

Numerous family members of victims spoke during public comment on Tuesday to show support, including Ana Esquivel, whose son, Alessandro Esquivel, fell from the cliffs in 2018.

“Five years ago on October 20th, 2018, I was driving to Isla Vista to pick up my son Alessandro, when I got the call that every parent dreads,” Esquivel said on Tuesday.

Esquivel said she couldn’t believe the cliffs had claimed the lives of more people since the death of her son and she urged the board to adopt all eight points of Capps’ plan.

“It’s easy to blame the victims but that will only guarantee more victims,” Esquivel said.

“It’s time for action, for better fencing, for investments to be made by property owners and the county, for policy decisions to prioritize the welfare of the young people who help fuel the economy and for those who have lost kids to those cliffs, to know by your actions, that our beautiful children did not die in vain.”

Heather Havens, the mother of Chasen Alibrando, who fell from a balcony overhanging the bluffs on April 29, 2022, said the Coastal Commission, Isla Vista landlords and code enforcement teams should be held responsible for the poor conditions of properties along the bluff.

Alibrando, 25, was visiting for UCSB’s alumni weekend at the time of his death, she said.

“My son has already been held accountable and paid his price for any decisions that night so I want everyone involved also held accountable,” Havens said.

Havens went on to tell the board that the properties along the bluff are in “horrendous conditions” for anyone to live in, but especially for young people hosting parties and large gatherings.

“This has happened way too many time now to be considered a freak accident,” Havens said. “I want to see a lot of change and I’m here today to advocate for Chase and all the other families who have been injured or who have lost their lives.”

Isla Vista bluffs.
Cliffs just outside a residence in Isla Vista, as can be seen behind most homes or apartments along Del Playa Drive. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said raising fences along the bluffs is crucial to preventing further cliff falls. Hartwig also encouraged the board to add innovative lighting along the bluffs which he said helps emergency responders when they do rescue operations at night. 

Members of the Isla Vista Community Services District, including board vice president Carrie Topliffe, Director Kirsten Deshler and General Manager Jonathan Abboud, also endorsed raising the height recruitment and emphasized the collaborative efforts for improving bluff safety. 

“All Isla Vista stakeholders have a role to play in preventing these deaths,” Deshler said during public comment on Tuesday. “As I hear the comments today, I see the faces of the young people who have died in Isla Vista and I’m thankful for all of those who are stepping forward today and in the future to help prevent another senseless death.” 

Capps said that this is just the beginning of the process to improve bluff safety.

“I’m feeling this daunting feeling of ‘okay this is great, we’re making some progress here today,’ but we’re just at the foot of a steep hill where we’re gonna have to keep climbing because there’s thousands of new students every fall,” Capps said.

The IVCSD recently approved changes to a social host and outdoor festival ordinance to clarify rules and address safety issues in the community.