Former A.S. president Jonathan Abboud and A.S. EVPLA-to-be Cameron Schunk to hold Isla Vista self-governance discussion
Santa Barbara City College trustee-elect Jonathan Abboud and Associated Students External Vice President of Local Affairs-elect Cameron Schunk will hold a forum presenting their vision for Isla Vista self-governance today from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the I.V. Food Co-Op.
I.V. is currently the largest unincorporated community under the direct governmental supervision of Santa Barbara County, and plans for its self-governance have been in the works throughout this past year, especially in light of past violent events such as Deltopia and the May 23 shootings. Among the different options on the table for potential forms of self-governance for I.V. — including the establishment of a Community Services District (CSD), the establishment of a Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) and cityhood — Abboud, Schunk and other self-governance advocates support establishing I.V. as a form of CSD.
Initially presented to A.S. and county officials by recent graduate Josh Plotke, a CSD would absorb the I.V. Recreation and Park District (IVPRD) — currently the only governing body within I.V. — as well as County Service Area No. 31 and provide a number of services funded through a utility users tax.
According to Isla Vista Coalition member and comparative literature graduate student Shari Sanders, many residents believe they do not have a voice in decisions made for I.V.
“The number one thing people are saying is that they don’t have access to the decisions that are made in Isla Vista that are affecting them directly,” Sanders said.
According to Sanders, this disconnect stems from a lack of adequate representation for I.V. at the county level.
“We don’t have our own kind of officials that are enfolded inside the county,” Sanders said. “We have an enormously difficult time holding anybody accountable for things that they say they will do for us.”
Imagine if we had the ability to install our own improved bluff fencing … The discussions about the fence could also occur in Isla Vista, instead of miles away at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday in a sterile county office building. — Cameron Schunk
Schunk said April’s Deltopia riots exemplify the difficulties faced by I.V. when there is little student-to-county communication on how to deal with large, potentially dangerous events.
“Students were tear gassed and civil unrest broke out on Deltopia because there was no cohesive plan with how to deal with the event,” Schunk said. “There was no cooperation from the county, largely.”
According to Schunk, having an autonomous governmental entity in I.V. based off of a CSD will allow I.V. residents to leverage more power in the community via tax dollars spent on local projects.
“We wouldn’t be waiting in line, or trying to entice the county to play favorites and spend money on us,” Schunk said. “We’d be able to spend the tax dollars on ourselves, on projects that were agreed upon at the local level.”
Schunk said the installation of bluff fencing by the County Planning Commission this past Halloween is an example of the type of action a self-governing I.V. could accomplish on a frequent basis.
“Imagine if we had the ability to install our own improved bluff fencing, instead of having to wait years through painstaking negotiations and monumental effort,” Schunk said. “The discussions about the fence could also occur in Isla Vista, instead of miles away at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday in a sterile county office building.”
According to Abboud, while the CSD framework serves as an effective basis from which to build models of self-governance, as defined by current law a CSD by itself is not specific enough to be appropriate for I.V.’s needs.
“A base-level CSD is very standard. It’s like a one-size-fits-all,” Abboud said. “That size doesn’t fit Isla Vista.”
That being said, I.V. self-governance advocates such as Abboud and Schunk are pushing for a CSD “custom made” for I.V.
“We want take some of the ideas of the CSD law and then write a new law that’s specially catered to Isla Vista’s needs,” Abboud said.
We’re writing a skeleton version of the bill, and then we’re going to give that to them for the staff in the capitol to actually write it. — Jonathan Abboud
Schunk and Abboud said they have been working on drafting the “new law” with the intent of having it introduced into the California state legislature this December by Assemblyman Das Williams and State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.
“We’ve met with them a lot about introducing the legislation and they’re both supportive,” Abboud said. “We’re writing a skeleton version of the bill, and then we’re going to give that to them for the staff in the capitol to actually write it.”
Abboud said that if the would-be bill is enacted into state law, the next step will be to apply through the county to have a measure passed that calls for the establishment of a special district on the ballot in the next county-wide election.
According to him, part of the drafting process for the law involves holding public forums to receive public input on the intended form of government, with meetings to be held by Schunk and Abboud.
“We hold public discussions to get more specific input so we can finish writing the bill,” Abboud said.
The Committee for a New Isla Vista (CNIV) is another entity working towards self-governance for Isla Vista. Chairman of CNIV Eric Hutchins said his group has been excluded from “these discussions.”
“We have repeatedly suggested that we be invited to participate in panel discussions on ‘How to learn from past mistakes’ and ‘How to succeed in the present political and demographic environment of Isla Vista,’” Hutchins said. “All to no avail.”
The issues that I see with the Community Service District and the Municipal Advisory Council are that the Community Service District is not allowed to change the rules about how this area works. All these things require rule changes. — Jay Freeman
According to Hutchins, the CNIV proposes a local government that involves an “inclusive democracy,” governed by a body that would be called “Isla Vista New Community Alliance.” The governing representatives would be elected by residents and five major groups: property owners, business owners, special service districts, the County of Santa Barbara and UCSB and SBCC administrations, faculty and students. But according to Hutchins, his ideas for self-governance have been mostly ruled out by much of the I.V. population.
“So far, it appears that [the CNIV] has been missed by student and community activists,” Hutchins said, “and our point-of-view dismissed without thoughtful engagement or consideration.”
Schunk said the disconnect between the CNIV and the rest of the community may stem from their preference for an advisory group to “provide perspective based on their efforts decades ago.”
“I’ve seen CNIV move forward with ideas after receiving very little input from community members. They seek to dictate the terms of self-governance themselves,” Schunk said. “We need the involvement of every single group.”
According to longtime I.V. resident, local business owner and alumnus Jay Freeman, complete cityhood for I.V. would be the best option for self-governance. According to Freeman, addressing issues such as renting, leasing and property owner accountability “can only be fixed if we have the ability to change the rules and change the laws that we operate under.”
If you were to go out there and ask people in Isla Vista about self-governance, two-thirds of them don’t know what that means. — Shari Sanders
“The issues that I see with the Community Service District and the Municipal Advisory Council are that the Community Service District is not allowed to change the rules about how this area works,” Freeman said. “All these things require rule changes.”
According to Freeman’s webpage, the services proposed under a CSD and its method of self-governance by levying taxes do not provide a completely sustainable model for the currently “unsustainable” I.V.
“At this point, the primary concerns people have about Isla Vista becoming a real city are only whether it can sustain its own budget,” Freeman stated. “However, its current situation (where it is essentially subsidized by the rest of the county) is simply unsustainable: Isla Vista needs to either figure out ways to decrease its cost or increase its revenue.”
Self-governance preferences set aside, Sanders said that one of the largest challenges the movement toward self-governance faces is that a majority of the I.V. community is unaware of the implications of self-governance or the existence of self-governance efforts.
“If you were to go out there and ask people in Isla Vista about self-governance, two-thirds of them don’t know what that means,” Sanders said.
According to Schunk, these issues are something that future conversations will hopefully resolve.
“There are a couple primary things that I think we have to keep in mind as we work to include the folks in the conversation who are traditionally not present,” Schunk said. “The biweekly community conversations Jonathan [Abboud] and I are hosting provide an opportunity for community-driven discussion.”
[Correction: A previous version of this article stated the event “Isla Vista Special District – A Conversation on How to Run IV’s Future Government” was at 4 p.m. when in fact it is at 4:30 p.m. The Daily Nexus regrets this error.]