The Santa Barbara County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) has drafted a letter to the state legislature opposing Isla Vista self-governance bill AB 3 and by a unanimous vote last week decided to move discussion on the opposition letter to a special commission meeting on Feb. 19.
AB 3, a bill written by Assemblymember Das Williams, proposes to make I.V. a community services district (CSD), which would allow I.V. to levy certain taxes and provide services such as additional lighting, parking, planning and advocacy through elected board members. Although a CSD would traditionally need authorization from LAFCO, Williams’ bill bypasses that requirement in favor of approval by the state legislature in light of LAFCO’s disapproval of past I.V. self-governance efforts.
Historically, every submission to LAFCO to turn I.V. into a CSD or give it other forms of local government has failed, with the commission rejecting CSD petitions for I.V. in 1972, 1975 and 1983 largely due to concerns over financial feasibility. The letter to be discussed next Thursday, written by Third District Supervisor and LAFCO Vice Chair Doreen Farr, expressed the commission’s concern about its lack of involvement in the approval process as well as issues regarding yet unwritten language of the bill and the role of landowners in the proposed CSD.
“It appears that in its current form, AB 3 intends to bypass the LAFCO District formation process, which is of great concern to CALAFCO and the Santa Barbara LAFCO,” the letter states. “The bill does not state which services and powers are envisioned for a CSD. Usually CSDs fold in existing districts. Are new services envisioned?”
Chair of the I.V. Property Owners Association Chuck Eckert said that establishment of a CSD for I.V. is unnecessary because the services needed to improve I.V. “already exist.”
“The position of the property owners of Isla Vista is this: we don’t think that a community services district is necessary … because it wouldn’t address the problems that exist which we believe to be primarily behavioral,” Eckert said. “We believe that all the government institutions needed to address problems related to infrastructure and level of services already exist.”
Eckert also said the appropriate action the legislature should take includes allowing LAFCO to approve or disapprove a CSD for I.V. after appropriate feasibility research has been done.
“I think that the proper thing to be done … is to let Das Williams’ bill … set up the things that this commission cannot do,” Eckert said. “Let [the legislature] send the issue back down to [LAFCO] after, for your decision, after a neutral and thorough economic viability study to make a determination if a district is to be formed.”
Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) Trustee and I.V. Community Organizer Jonathan Abboud however said that continued neglect of I.V. by county entities such as LAFCO cannot continue if I.V. wishes to attain a form of self-governance.
“The old LAFCO has a really bad reputation and history for shafting Isla Vista in the Goleta cityhood attempt and our own cityhood attempts,” Abboud said. “It’s been 45 years and nothing’s happened. It’s getting worse and doing nothing is not an option and I think that those who think we should do nothing should then do something themselves.”
Abboud also said a CSD in I.V. could potentially improve property values for the area and make it a “better place to live.”
“The bill does not have to bypass LAFCO; it’s still an idea, that’s just one consideration people in the community came up with,” Abboud said. “Even if a CSD is limited [in scope] some sort of policy implementation could improve Isla Vista … it could improve it in a behavioral sense and structurally.”
But I.V. property owner John Putra said establishing a CSD by act of legislature could undermine the legitimacy of LAFCO by allowing anyone to bypass it.
“I find the process here is very dangerous from the standpoint of setting a precedent that, once it’s adopted, is going to eviscerate LAFCO because anybody can get around the process by introducing a bill and proceeding to change districts, form districts, without the input of LAFCO,” Putra said. “If this LAFCO does not take a strong stand against this kind of process I think it’s going wind up becoming a powerless agency.”
According to fourth-year psychology and political science double major and Associated Students External Vice President of Local Affairs (EVPLA) Cameron Schunk, the option of limiting LAFCO’s role in a self-governance bill for I.V. is more due to practical necessity rather than a dislike or distrust of the agency.
“As far as precedent is concerned, we have already set some sort of insurmountable precedent just by the nature of being Isla Vista; our situation is so incredibly unique that it requires a unique solution,” Schunk said. “The term ‘bypass LAFCO’ is not necessarily accurate … it’s not necessarily a dislike or distrust of LAFCO; it’s simply the idea that LAFCO may not be able to, given the powers that it has, provide us with all of the things that we need.”
Possible funding options for services provided by an I.V. CSD include a user’s utilities tax, where a tax is levied on use of utilities services such as water, electricity and gas, per household. According to Eckert, because most properties in I.V. are “master metered” for water utilities for entire complexes, rather than individual units, the cost of paying taxes on water falls on the property owner, rather than the renter, which is a concern to property owners of I.V. regarding their taxes.
I.V. property owner Brian Bailey said he does not want to see taxes in I.V. increase further.
“You’ve been bypassed, you’ve been neutered. What’s up with that?” Bailey said. “I took out our tax bill and looked at it and saw our park district bonds that have been in place for [many] years. They comprise, on this random one I pulled out, 11 percent of my tax bill. I really don’t want more shit on my tax bill.”
But while Schunk said he could not say if there was “huge community consensus” on the user’s utility tax, in small I.V. town hall meetings he said most attendees agree it is a fairer method of taxation.
“If we were to do a property tax, we would see only property owners receiving that tax … and logically passing it down to us through increased rent,” Schunk said. “That’s not to say a user utilities tax won’t increase rent per se, but in the sense that cost of living will still increase if you increase taxes. That’s a fact, there’s no getting around that unfortunately.”
Eckert encouraged LAFCO to amend their letter to include language specifically opposing the bill unless it does not bypass LAFCO in the CSD formation process.
“The letter should be that this commission, you folks, opposes the bill unless it is limited to certain things and unless it leaves the issue of whether or not this district is to be formed up to you,” Eckert said.
Williams said in a prior interview in December that the details of the services and other specifics on the form and function of an I.V. CSD have not been established because further input is needed from the I.V. community.
“We do not have all of the details because it is our intention of course to continue the community dialogue that has already been taking place,” Williams said. “We don’t want to rush and just decide what the shape is without continued community dialogue.”
Where was LAFCO in 2003? Where was LAFCO when the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury published the report saying we should have a CSD? Where was LAFCO in our past three failed attempts and furthermore where was LAFCO during Goleta’s incorporation? – A.S. EVPLA Cameron Schunk
LAFCO Commissioner Jeff Moorhouse said he thinks AB 3 raises questions about local government jurisdiction and that he opposes the bill entirely.
“This issue is about, ‘Is it right for the state legislature to tell local people how to form a government?’” Moorehouse said. “AB 3 needs to be pulled. It needs to no longer exist and you need to go through the right process and let [LAFCO] help you.”
Schunk said, while he respects Moorhouse’s position, he “respectfully disagrees” with it.
“Part of what we saw at LAFCO is proof that perhaps Mr. Moorhouse needs to do more research into the exact nature of the legislative process for one, and perhaps also be more open-minded to … what we’ve been saying the whole time,” Schunk said. “We’ve never once said that we are doing this because we hate LAFCO and want them to have no part of this; that is not the issue here.”
According to Moorhouse, who supports the letter in its present form, the university, the county and SBCC are partially responsible for perpetuating problems inherent to I.V.
“I see the housing crisis, overcrowding, the planning, the parking, the lighting, the sidewalks — it’s all stuff that should have been done,” Moorhouse said.
“Instead of coming here, ‘LAFCO come help us with a CSD’ you should be taking your time going in front of the county board of supervisors and tell them to start throwing some money your way to start fixing some of these problems because they do have the resources.”
Schunk said he disagrees with Moorhouse’s comments on LAFCO’s ability to adequately help I.V. given its history of shooting down prior self-governance proposals.
“Where was LAFCO in 2003? Where was LAFCO when the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury published the report saying we should have a CSD?” Shunk said. “Where was LAFCO in our past three failed attempts and furthermore where was LAFCO during Goleta’s incorporation?”
According to Williams, the county has limited funding to provide to I.V. because of the realities of governing the rest of the county.
“Doreen Farr and most of county administrators will agree that the county is doing [its] best and if they could wave their magic wand they would have more revenues and resources for the people of Isla Vista,” Williams said. “But because they represent a countywide government they can’t [allocate] revenue just for Isla Vista.”
Farr said the intent of the meeting next Thursday is to finalize some kind of letter regarding AB 3.
“The intention is to take action on sending a letter if LAFCO chose to [send the letter],” Farr said. “[Whether or not the letter will be issued] will be up to a full board to decide, because the letter was not really properly agendized for discussion — we didn’t discuss it, so the other members of LAFCO … did not have an opportunity to comment on that.”
According to second-year history of public policy major and I.V. Parks and Rec District (IVRPD) board member Paola De La Cruz, Moorhouse’s comments on getting the university more involved in governing I.V. already been tried without success.
“We have seen that the university and entities in Isla Vista are not addressing these needs … there are other needs that need addressing and they aren’t doing that,” De La Cruz said. “So his response for us to go out to them and to ask for help. We have already done that … so we need to take a bigger step and do something that will actually address our needs.”
Williams said AB 3 does not set such a precedent, nor does it seek to completely sideline LAFCO in the CSD formation process.
“There are many CSDs that have been established by the legislature,” Williams said. “This would not be the first; it is not a precedent … LAFCO has an important role in the formation of local government and I want to respect that as much as possible … at the very least [LAFCO] should inspect the financial feasibility report and have an oversight role in the financial feasibility of a CSD for Isla Vista.”
According to Williams, details on what LAFCO’s oversight role on financial feasibility will be for an I.V. CSD has yet to be determined and that the time for action on a new government for I.V. must happen soon, as the consequences of inaction could result in damage to the community.
“To me that the most important thing here is that there are people who will be hurt by our failure to take action,” Williams said. “LAFCO might wonder why we are moving so quickly. We are trying to get a strong amount of public input but we are moving quickly because inaction is causing problems in Isla Vista and I am not willing to wait another thirty years for people take action.”
The next Santa Barbara LAFCO meeting will take place at the Santa Barbara County Administration building on 105 East Anapamu Street at 2 p.m. at the Board of Supervisor’s Hearing Room.
[Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted LAFCO chair Doreen Farr stating the letter was “agonized” for discussion. She actually said “agendized”. The article has been updated accordingly.]
A version of this story appeared on page 3 of Thursday, February 12, 2015’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.