We’ve been had. Thursday afternoon, both 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall and the UCSB administration utterly failed in their responsibility to represent Isla Vistans and students in the final meeting to define the Goleta cityhood boundaries for November’s ballot.
The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) voted 6-1 to exclude the university and Isla Vista from Goleta Now!’s cityhood proposal. The board’s decision is disappointing and ignores sound financial and demographic logic. But the most severe heartache comes from Marshall’s and the university’s completely unforeseen and unprovoked betrayal of their constituents. Of the two, it was Marshall who most egregiously violated Isla Vistans’ trust.
After public comment, each of LAFCO’s board members was allowed to voice one’s opinion on the proposals. Six of the seven offered concise one-to-two-minute remarks. Marshall delivered a 15-minute speech defending the merits of Isla Vista and its residents with a well-planned set of five criteria for inclusion, all of which, she said, Isla Vistans met. She asked to cast her vote last. And when the moment came and her six colleagues had cast their myopic nays, she followed suit, turning her back on the residents she praised only moments before.
The excuse Marshall gave for her duplicity was that she saw no reason to inject a protest vote because it would not change the result. Here are two reasons: your constituents and political ethics. It is completely irrelevant that inclusion was all but defeated. Senior Representative Strom Thurmond is 98 years old and a 50-year veteran of Capitol Hill, not because he is overwhelmingly liked, but because he keeps his word to the people he represents. It is called integrity. It is called fortitude. It is called standing up for what you believe is right.
Marshall is Isla Vista’s only elected representative and she shelled us. Her request to vote last and her last-minute waffling are indicative of one thing – she was trying to hedge her bets. It is proof that Goleta Now!’s allegations have been false all along. Isla Vistans do not comprise an omnipotent “voting bloc” and have never provided a crucial swing vote in any election. When Marshall saw that things looked bad for I.V., she appeared to scramble like a rat from a sinking ship, eager to appease her other, soon-to-be-incorporated constituents. After all, the popular vote for cityhood will come in November, and Marshall is up for re-election next spring.
As for the university, it was duly negligent. When LAFCO offered the UCSB administration its turn in the public comment round of the meeting, the board was handed a letter on behalf of the absentee administrators. The letter stated that the university was not prepared to offer input because it was not given enough time to effectively gauge the financial impact of cityhood on students and that maybe, given until the end of May, it could have adopted a position. Was a decade not long enough? The university, by playing blind, deaf and dumb, grossly mishandled its responsibility to represent the student population of Isla Vista.
Robert Kuntz, the assistant chancellor of UCSB’s Budget and Planning division, has always worked closely with LAFCO, according to the commission’s executive officer, Bob Braitman. As the largest, most influential institution in the tri-county area, there is simply no acceptable reason that the university was unprepared to offer its opinion. Isla Vista is not an easy place to live, and exclusion from incorporation will deny greater revenue for local public works projects. The university ought to have taken student’s wellbeing into greater consideration when it decided not to get wrapped up in controversial local politics.
Is there any hope for redemption? Maybe. LAFCO and the county government are still at odds about whether or not incorporating Goleta without I.V. will form an “island,” which is forbidden under state law. LAFCO says it will not create an island; the county says it will and there is plenty of room to challenge yesterday’s decision in court before the November ballot. Marshall has done good things for I.V. in the past. Now is the time for her to prove her dedication toward improving our community, if Isla Vistans are to give her a second chance.