Letters to the Editor / Opinion

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Isla Vista?

Why do we have to be overly fearful in Isla Vista about getting assaulted, raped, robbed or our houses broken into? Has it ever bothered you that we as Isla Vista residents seem to have almost no say in our future or how we are governed? Have you ever wondered why the street lighting in Isla Vista is so bad, or why most of Isla Vista has no sidewalks? There is a solution to these problems. The solution is for Isla Vista to become a Community Services District (a lesser government entity than a city), giving us residents a larger say in how Isla Vista is governed.

In this UCSB Associated Students election, OPP, various candidates and some current A.S. representatives have mentioned the idea of turning Isla Vista into a Community Services District. Because most of you have probably never heard of such a thing, I am going to attempt to explain to you what a CSD is and how it would improve Isla Vista.

Isla Vista’s founding was a strange one: UCSB decided to allow developers to come in and build up Isla Vista, instead of purchasing it themselves, and making it part of the UCSB campus. This decision has snowballed into numerous problems and is where we find ourselves for the foreseeable future, whether we like it or not. The question is, how do we deal with the hand that we are dealt?

On the one hand, Isla Vista and its residents are so connected to UCSB that UCSB feels some kind of responsibility towards it. On the other hand, it is not part of the campus, and they therefore leave most of the responsibility for taking care of Isla Vista to the County. But Santa Barbara County is a lot larger than Isla Vista — 4,000 square miles with very diverse populations — compared to Isla Vista, which is just half a square mile and made up mostly of students. They don’t have the ability to give Isla Vista the attention and services it needs for Isla Vista to have the quality of life it should have, and it is for this reason that the law allowing the creation of CSDs was established. It allows residents to decide the type and amount of services provided in that community.

In 2002-2003, after studying the problems in Isla Vista for two years, the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury came to the conclusion that the best solution to all our problems was to turn Isla Vista into a Community Services District. They weren’t the only ones who mentioned the possibility of I.V. becoming a CSD. When Doreen Farr ran for Third District Supervisor, she mentioned that looking into turning I.V. into a CSD might be part of the solution for Isla Vista.

Currently, the only say that Isla Vista voters have over their future is through the elected Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District (IVRPD). Establishing the IVRPD wasn’t easy either. Many home and property owners opposed it because of the increased property taxes that came along with its creation. But, because the IVRPD was established, I.V. now has over 20 parks, compared with only one park at the time of the IVRPD’s founding.

Looking at Isla Vista’s history, there were many attempts to improve its self-governance, and there were many attempts to turn Isla Vista into a city. All of these attempts failed because of insufficient tax revenue to support the high costs of running a city. Therefore, I don’t think following a failing course is the solution to Isla Vista’s problems. Rather a more practical solution is called for. The only advance in Isla Vistan self-governance that has ever occurred is the creation of the IVRPD, so this is the model that I think we should follow.

With all the problems that exist in Isla Vista — including lack of sufficient safety for the residents, insufficient lighting, sidewalks, street trees, issues with funding graffiti abatement, the lack of a community center and other community facilities and no singular voice to speak for Isla Vista residents — it is time we build upon over forty years of IVRPD successes by expanding the control and say we have over our own services through the creation of a Community Services District.

My vision for this is a community where all the lighting in Isla Vista is up to proper standards, where sidewalks will finally be filled in, where the streets will be full of trees rather than just houses, where we don’t have to beg for money to have graffiti removed, where we will have a community center that Isla Vista will make good use of and where an elected board (very similar to a city council) will be able to stand up and speak for the interests of Isla Vista residents to the County, UCSB, the Sheriff’s Department and other entities. It is even possible that the County will appoint the CSD Board as both an official advisory board and an advisory planning board on Isla Vista matters and on Isla Vista’s growth and development plans.

This project will not be easy. We have support for this project from many entities, including important people in the County and in the Santa Barbara community, but none of them are going to do our work for us. If we want to see an improved Isla Vista, we are going to have to spearhead this project by ourselves. Neither the County, UCSB nor any other entity is going to make this happen for us.

The project is going to take a few years and up to 100,000 dollars. It will include getting 25 percent of voters in I.V. to sign a petition in support of the project. It will require getting professional financial feasibility studies done. It will also require getting the approval from an appointed California State Board called LAFCO, who will look at this project and decide whether it is in the best interest of the County’s orderly growth and development to create this CSD. And finally, it will take having an election, where Isla Vista residents will decide whether they approve of I.V. becoming a CSD or not.

Besides the hard work that will go into this project, we will be viciously opposed in the creation of a CSD by the same people who opposed the creation of the IVRPD over 40 years ago. We will be opposed by most property investors, of whom over 90 percent live outside of Isla Vista and care more about their bottom line than their residents’ quality of life. Some homeowners will oppose the CSD as well because they will be against paying higher taxes. I think that living or owning property in Isla Vista comes not only with benefits (living right by the ocean) but also with responsibilities. It is the responsibility of everyone to make sure that Isla Vista is a safe place and has the proper services needed for an area and population of this size.

So, as hard as the fight will be, I am confident it is one we can win. Our project is a noble one, is feasible and will produce many improvements in Isla Vista. I ask you to do your part to make sure that this project is a success. You might not be here when the project is completed, but think about the good you will be doing for all students and others that come after us.

If you would like to read up more on the project, read the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury Report from 2002-2003, titled “Isla Vista — Take Charge!” Also, take a look at a 2001 report by Economic & Planning Systems titled “Local Government Options for Isla Vista/UCSB.” If you would like a simple overview on CSD’s, take a look the one-page summary written by California Tax Data titled “What is a Community Services District?” If you are interested in reading deeper into this project, take a look at the law that governs CSD’s, which is California Government Code 61000-61226.5. Also, if you want to read up on the process of creating a CSD, look up California Government Code 56000-57550. All these documents and the law are free online and are easily available through a Google search.

If you would like to comment on this project, have any further questions about it, would like to read up on it further or would like to get involved and help, feel free to email me at IslaVistaCSD@gmail.com.

Josh Plotke is a fifth-year biological anthropology major.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 21, 2014 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
 Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.


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  1. raoul duke says:

    IV needs to go vehicle free.

    A biking / pedestrian community environment would encourage the non-student population to get out (after all, only students and slackers/dropouts have the luxury of time.) This would resolve many issues – overcrowding, high rents, etc.

  2. I like the idea but I too would be concerned that their would be governance without results. Also, won’t raising property taxes also raise our rent?

    • Josh Plotke says:

      As far as governance without results, that might be the case if the CSD was just an advisory council to the County, but in fact, it would actually have to manage parks, lighting, sidewalks, graffiti etc., so there isn’t time for just governance, action is required all the time. Attend any IVRPD meeting (or look at their minutes), and you’ll see what I am talking about. The CSD would follow that model.
      As far as whether raising property taxes will raise the rent, I am not sure about that, and will have to look into whether having the taxes from the IVRPD has raised rent in IV. As far as I understand it, the property investors are making a killing in IV, so I’m not sure that the raised taxes really affected their bottom line. I’ll check into this, and reply.
      Another issue is whether or how much the property taxes would actually be raised by a CSD. If we are just fixing lights, sidewalks, and graffiti, we aren’t talking about a lot of money. Currently, every year, there is just $15000 raised to pay for all lighting, sidewalks, street trees, curbs, and gutters. That money only pays for the street lighting electricity bill. My understanding is that there needs to be an increase in that amount to $30,000 a year. Also, there would need to be capital expenditures to pay for new lighting fixtures, and new sidewalks. This would be paid for by a bond. Further, it is my understanding that a CSD would have the same administration as the IVRPD, so we shouldn’t expect costs to increase from that, and if so, only slightly.
      So, at the end of the day, I’m not very worried about general property tax increases, at least in the beginning of a CSD. As far as whether there might be bond measures put up to increase the infrastructure in IV, such as for example creating a community center, that is a possibility, but those expenditures would have to be approved by the IV voters.

  3. Josh Plotke says:

    If I am wrong on number 1, 2, and 3, I stand corrected. The piece was written pretty quickly ie and I used Carmen Lodise’s book to get my information.

    Regarding number 4, Goleta West Sanitary District covers more than just IV. I think parks is something we see and benefit from daily. Can you explain me how, other than the fact that our sewers work, the sanitary district effects the quality of life of its residents in a visible manner?

    Regarding number 5, my information for that came from the 283 page report done by Christina A. Ziegler-McPherson entitled “More Than Just Parks”: The Isla Vista Recreation & Park District, 1972-1998. I don’t disagree though with all the problems that have also plagued IVRPD’s history.

    Regarding number 6, I think misspending and over-taxing is something I don’t agree with. I look at the CSD, not as a repeat of the IVCC, but as an expansion of the IVRPD. I don’t disagree that there will be problems with a CSD, just as there have been in IVRPD’s history, but I think that when you look at the IVRPD’s history overall, it has produced more positives than negatives ie we wouldn’t have all the parks we have now without the IVRPD, even with all its problems.

    Regarding number 7, the RDA is disbanded, so that is a moot point.

    IV has so many problems. It’s easy for you homeowners to just sit on the West side of IV, enjoy the prime real estate, and let the rest of IV fall into decay. I think that you guys are taking advantage of students by living on our backs, by paying a lower level of taxes than you would anywhere else with this kind of prime location next to the water. For all you guys care, IV can go to hell, as long as you got your little piece of paradise on the west side. I ask you, what is your solution to IV’s problems? Have you proposed anything? Have you gone to County and advocated for proper services for IV? Or, have you just sat back on your nice property, and fought attempts to improve the services in IV as your only strategy, because you didn’t want to pay your fair share of taxes?

    I’d be happy to sit down with you at any time and discuss the matter. You can reach me at IslaVistaCSD@gmail.com

    • OceanTerrace says:

      Imagine IV with sewage all over the streets instead of underground. Perhaps what is now the Goleta West Sanitary District influences the quality of life more than any other government agency. Originally the Isla Vista Sanitary District covered just the footprint of IV. It was so well run the subdivisions near the Sesame Tree wanted in. So the Isla Vista Sanitary District expanded several times. Eventually the rather nasty Goleta homeowners were annoyed to be paying any money to an agency entitled `Isla Vista’, so they go the sanitary district renamed. You are missing an important point… what is now the GWSD has always been extremely well run, an is an IV local agency. It is a better model for a well-run public agency than IVRPD. As for the relationship between the west end homeowners (I am not one nor have I ever been one) and the IVRPD: go back and look at the election results from, I think, Oct. 31, 1973 that formed the IVRPD. The homeowners were in favor. Rental property owners opposed. However, when the IVRPD has descended into bouts of craziness, and it has, the west end homeowners have saved it, several times. Crapping on the west end homeowners is crapping in your own mess kit.
      The PAC is extremely relevant because it achieved a measure of fairness and balance between all the interest groups of IV. If you really want a CSD, you need to achieve the same kind of balance.

      • Josh Plotke says:

        You are right to say that the Goleta West Sanitary District is very well run. In fact, not that long ago, they had a 20 million dollar surplus, which everyone was trying to get a piece of. I would definitely be interested in knowing why the GWSD has so worked so well, while the IVRPD has had so many problems. I contacted the GWSD last summer, but received no reply. Sounds like I should visit and talk to them to find out why things have worked so well for them.
        As far as the west-enders, it was my understanding that it was the exception if a west-ender supported the creation of the IVRPD, and the bond measures that came after that to actually pay for the parks. I will look again into the history and post any corrections to my article.
        As for the PAC, it was my understanding that there was only one student on it, when students make up a majority of the residents. Is that called balanced?

      • OceanTerrace says:

        To Josh Plotke @ 10:11am 4/22/2014…


        There was 1 rep from *Associated Students*, which is already a stretch because the redevelopment agency footprint did not include the UCSB campus.

        Additionally there were: 1 Grad Student Rep, 1 from the IV Tenants Union, 1 Renter, 1 from the Co-op.

        So in principal *5* students out of 13.

        Outside entities, including the City of Goleta and the County *love* disagreement and internal squabbles within IV, because that enables them to grab resources away from IV. Indeed, the City of Goleta has tried to dismember the Goleta West Sanitary District to get the reserves the GWSD has accumulated.

        Yes, the west-end people turned against the IVRPD at times, but at other times they have worked hard through service on the board. They aren’t perfect but to be fair some of the IVRPD ideas were crazy… bond measures to pay for parties, for example.

        Nevertheless, one cardinal principal has to be respected to ever get anywhere in improving IV’s situation: keep the crazy fighting totally behind closed doors and not in the press or in any communication with outside entities. There has to be a totally unified front, and if there is not a totally unified front, don’t talk about the issue at all.

        Ragging on the west enders or the rental property owners or UCSB or the Sheriff should never be public, and should be kept behind a closed door. Carmen couldn’t handle that. Success will only ever by achieved by a totally unified front.

        • Josh Plotke says:

          To Ocean Terrace at 10:31 am (April 22, 2014):

          As far as the student representation on the PAC (RDA), if you look at the population makeup of IV, it is made up of mostly of either UCSB or SBCC students. I would say that looking at the PAC makeup, that voice is really drowned out by all the other interests on it. You have the Storke Ranch Association, IV Property Owners Association, a homeowner, 2 business owners (both vacant), the YMCA Youth and Family Services, IV Youth Projects (for kids), the IV Association (homeowners), all (8/13) of which don’t have the interests that the majority of the IV residents have, for obvious reasons. The Storke Ranch Association isn’t part of IV. When you add up just property and homeowners, you have 4. Then you have the Housing Coop, which only represent a small part of IV, and a graduate student, who don’t even live in IV. Then you have one from associated students. Finally, you have only one actual resident to hopefully represent the majority view of IV.
          Because a CSD board is elected by the people, it is very hard to control the who gets placed on the board. It is up to the IV voters to decide that. By law, it would not be possible to have all stakeholders at the table.
          It’s interesting that you mention internal IV squabbles as enabling the County take resources from IV. It is my understanding that this has been going on since IV’s founding, whether there are inter squabbles or not. IV never seems to send anyone to represent them when County meetings are going on, such as when the budgeting process is going on. Currently, IV Parks is only able to stand up for their interests when it comes to parks and recreation. With a CSD on the other hand, it will have the ability to speak and advocate for IV it one of the added powers it had was to be a Municipal Advisory Council. Further, it can advocate for IV even without that power. This is something a PAC or RDA has no ability to do, as they currently don’t exist. Do you have a better idea of how to set up something permanent that will always exist in IV to advocate for the residents? Isla Vista’s history has always been one of internal squabbles. Acting as if they don’t exist, help no one. In fact, we expect there to be a massive fight in IV between the students and homeowners/property investors. This will be our biggest, and only real challenge. Because of this, I want to make sure that everyone is aware of that fact, and is ready for the work and long drawn out fight that is going to go on over this project. The entities that you singled out as entities that I shouldn’t have ragged on (UCSB, Sheriff, homeowners, property owners), are exactly the entities to blame for IV’s problems (besides the County). By brushing over them and making like they don’t exist, helps no one.
          My understanding about the west-enders is that many times when they have gotten on the board they have wreaked havoc and chaos on IVRPD and IV. Further, they have fought very hard against many of the bonds that have passed that help IV have the parks they do. I think they are just after not wanting more taxes. Many are paying a tax level at the rate when they bought the house 40 years ago, which is way lower than it should be today. They are again as I said, living right by the ocean, but are taking advantage of the fact that the students don’t have organized political power, to keep IV from having the proper services it needs. They are as I said, living on our backs.
          I don’t disagree with you that IVRPD ideas have not always been good ones, but when you look at the totality of the situation, the IVRPD had provided way more good to IV overall, even when you include any mistakes that were made.
          You talk about an RDA type of institution (where all stakeholders are at the table) as the solution to move IV forward, but who is organizing such a thing? Under what rubric will such an a group of people work? Where will they meet? Who will pay for its costs? Even if such a group could be brought together, how can it be setup to last for the foreseeable future in IV, instead of something like this being around for only a year, and then disappearing. I see no one stepping up, including yourself to offer to make this happen. So instead of pulling down the only solid idea currently on the table in IV, why don’t YOU work on bringing the solution you advocate for in IV, instead of just sitting there at your desk monday-morning-quarterbacking. IV needs permanent institutions that outlast any specific group of new residents it has. This will be accomplished through the creation of an IVCSD.

          • Josh Plotke says:

            To OceanTerrace:

            Let me also just say that I left my email to you with the offer to talk with you about these matters anytime, yet I didn’t hear back from you. Does this mean that you are just interested in quarterbacking rather than actually making a difference in the life of Isla Vista residents?

        • OceanTerrace says:

          The bottom line was that there were 5, not 1, students on the PAC; you had said there were 1. BTW, usually the students didn’t show up; for quite a while the most effective and mature advocate was the GSA Rep, although she didn’t live in IV. Storke Ranch *WAS PART OF THE RDA AREA (go look at a map)* and provided a huge chunk of the funding of the RDA. But the PAC was by no means perfect.

          I obviously disagree with your apportionment of blame for IV. Most of the active property owners, business owners, and residence owners have IV’s best interests deeply in their heart. I have a very different view… outside political interests count on activist students to achieve their (usually worthwhile) interests, like, Save the Gaviota Coast. However, the mistake is to project political concerns from outside of IV onto IV. IV is simply a dense, urban environment. It is not the Gaviota Coast. The main interest of Surfrider, for example, in IV, is not anything for IV, but is entirely protecting free parking on Camino Majorca (which, BTW, the west end residents are OK with). The main interest of the political groups outside IV that recruit students is anti-development and preservation of open space. Which is fine, and has helped the best thing IVRPD has accomplished: some great parks (although Anis’quoyo is not one them, nor is People’s Park). Were it not for the west-end folks, most of the documentation of the purchase fo the parks would have disappeared years ago; the IVRPD boards of students have been breathtakingly careless.

          Orderly development of a truly urban area is the principal issue for IV. CPA, CEC, etc, just don’t get it and never have. Which is not to say that the many of their goals, for a suburban area, aren’t laudable. But for IV they are inappropriate. Nevertheless, IV activists get imprinted with non-IV goals and can’t shift gears when they are back in IV.

          As for what to do: a CSD will never get through LAFCO. Period. I would design a form of government appropriate for IV, with power sharing between the voters in IV, the property owners, and the west-enders. I’d go right to the State Legislature and Governor to get it adopted in a special case. I’d get UC, which is very experienced in Sacramento to contribute its expertise in getting the thing done.

          • Josh Plotke says:

            Even if there were “5″ students as you say in the PAC, it was weighted by power than by Isla Vista population.
            Stork Ranch was part of the RDA, but not Isla Vista.
            As far as outside groups that you mention (Save the Gaviota Coast, Surfriders, CPA, and CEC), I have nothing to do with those groups, and am not influenced by them in any way.
            Why do you think the IVRPD got through LAFCO, while you think a CSD wont? LAFCO themselves lists the CSD as a realistic and maybe ideal next step for Isla Vista to take. Further, I have talked with the former and current Executive Officer of LAFCO, who confirmed that position.
            Ideally, Isla Vista needs a lot more than a CSD. Maybe it could use a public private partnership (if that’s possible) or something that can bring a lot of money to IV, similar to the level that came out of the RDA. The issue is that there is no one offering such a solution at this time. The only realistic solution now on the table is a CSD. Also, a CSD would at least be a dedicated local government (for the long term) that could work on bringing in a much larger project.

  4. OceanTerrace says:

    “And while the future’s there for anyone to change
    Still you know it’s seems
    It would be easier sometimes to change the past” – Jackson Browne

    Josh you have changed the past a lot in this article.

    1) Isla Vista was subdivided and sold off to developers between 1925 and 1927, long before UCSB was a gleam in Thomas Storke’s eyes.

    2) By the time UCSB announced its move to the current campus, prices were so high and the ownership was so fragmented purchase of property by UCSB was prohibitively expensive and time consuming. Thomas Storke himself tried and gave up.

    3) UCSB planners in the 1950′s tried quite hard to influence the development of IV, but property owners did end runs to both the Regents an the County Board of Supervisors. Read `Evolution of a Boom Town’ by Jennifer Hildreth Strand, an MA thesis in the UCSB Library.

    4)IV has *2* elected boards, the IVRPD board & the *Goleta West Sanitary District*, originally the Isla Vista Sanitary District. Sewage capacity has historically been very important to IV’s development.

    5)The election that established the IVRPD was overwhelmingly positive; homeowners were in favor. The split came later, when there were a number of misdeeds by the IVRPD board; similarly with the other elected councils (IVCC etc). A prominent concern then: how do you keep elected officials of an IV CSD from embezzling, spending money on drugs, etc, which sank earlier elected IV boards?

    6)LAFCO has always been controlled by rental property owners & UCSB who influence the out-of-third-district appointees to sink anything like a
    CSD. They do fear a CSD will mainly raise fees/taxes **WITHOUT GOOD RESULTS**, like the IVCC etc of the past. So if you want a CSD, you have to address how this iteration will be more effective/less corrupt than the past.

    7)The PAC for the RDA had significant participation from many groups, and although it moved slowly, avoided the corruption and craziness of IVCC etc.

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