Editor’s Note:This is the first in a three-part series looking at UCSB’s role in county politics. Today’s story examines the recent history of county-UCSB relations, including the debate over Highway 217.

If county politics are a jungle, UCSB is the 800-lb gorilla.

After decades of clashes, the county and the newly formed city of Goleta often feel trod on by the massive bureaucratic, state-funded nightmare that sleeps just about anywhere it wants.

The most visible clash in the last five years has been the lengthy battle over the county’s plan to put stoplights on the 217 Highway. UCSB, led by several dedicated faculty members, halted construction with a plan of its own. Years later, nothing has changed, and the county, which once seemed certain to get its way, is rumored to just want to get the whole thing over and done with.

“The county and the university had passively agreed on a solution to 217 and all of a sudden there was a lot of resistance to it,” County Planning and Development Director John Patton said.

Goleta residents wanted the stoplights between Hollister Avenue and Sandspit Road to attract traffic and business from the university to Old Town Goleta. UCSB’s proposed solution does not involve stoplights. Goleta still doesn’t agree with the university, so the situation remains unresolved.

“The key there is we need to do something about the accessibility of Old Town Goleta and congestion of Hollister,” Patton said. “UCSB needs to know that 217 isn’t just UCSB’s driveway and it needs to recognize the major role it plays in the region.”

Part of that role in the region would be using its weight to dominate local affairs and the Goleta City Council often feels slighted by the university’s local commitment. Councilman Jack Hawxhurst said the university evades fees intended to fund streets and public facilities, leaving the burden of funding to Goleta residents.

“The university is a state agency and local governments cannot automatically charge for anything – they ignore us,” he said.

Often, university administration in Northern California makes decisions for UCSB that significantly impact Goleta and the surrounding community, Goleta Mayor Margaret Connell said.

“With the university there are sometimes multiple layers of committees to go through and the ultimate decision sometimes lies with the regents outside Santa Barbara,” she said. “It makes it difficult when our processes are different; it can lead to problems.”

Although the university is not required to pay local fees for local infrastructure, it does pay for a significant portion of the costs the local community incurs, 3rd District Assistant John Buttny said. Through the university’s 1990 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), UCSB funds half of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, provides a fire station for county firefighters, and pays fees for water, sewage, student bus passes and traffic impacts, among other fees.

In negotiating the 1990 LRDP, the county and city of Santa Barbara expressed concern with housing and transportation issues related to the growth of the campus. The local governments sought agreements whereby the campus would contribute to building streets, housing for faculty and students, and public transportation, Patton said.

“It was hard-fought battle, but an agreement was reached,” he said.

The 1990 LRDP aimed to address housing, traffic, and environmental issues in Goleta, while planning for an increase of 14,000 to 20,000 students, Buttny said. The LRDP also proposed additional on-campus housing and stated how much the university would have to pay for its impact on the community. An expanded university posed a threat to the already tight housing crunch in Goleta and Isla Vista, he said.

“In earlier years there were times when students would arrive in the fall and there would literally be no place for them to live,” Buttny said. “They would camp out in cars waiting for people to drop out and move away. We didn’t want something similar to happen so they agreed to start an affordable housing fund that would subsidize affordable housing projects for faculty.”

A proposed plan for a renewed Isla Vista includes solutions for housing problems through zoning changes that allow for more stories on buildings. UCSB is involved in the I.V. Master Plan process and UCSB officials attended the [Re]Vision Isla Vista community workshops held in April.

“We ‘re very involved in the I.V. Master Plan,” Dean of Students Yonie Harris said.

Local governments asked the university to set aside several million dollars for infrastructure over the course of 15 years and this request was implemented through the LRDP.

“Traffic impacts are almost always priority one because we have a narrow set of roads without much room to expand; mountains on one side and ocean on the other,” Buttny said.

Isla Vista was not included in the original 1990 LRDP, but after negotiations, the university agreed to help fund a committee, known as the I.V. Community Enhancement Committee, which published an extensive report on recommended improvements and was funded by the county and the university. The I.V.CEC released a report recommending that the university build 650 housing units on campus and purchase I.V. buildings for low cost housing.

The university looked to develop most of West Campus as well; a point of concern for county environmentalists. If the university had expanded West Campus, the end of Del Playa Drive would feel cramped, Buttny said.

“I.V. is already tight enough and that feeling of openness was needed,” he said.

The university and county have done a “decent” job of maintaining the environment surrounding the campus in the Isla Vista community, Buttny said.

“I.V. is a very difficult community to promote and carry out change in,” he said, “partially because the physical limitations are so tight.”