All of Isla Vista’s parks, and the homeless who call them home, may run dry if the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District reinstates a ban on alcohol – one that never took effect – at its meeting tonight.
In 1996, the IVRPD began banning the consumption of alcohol in certain parks throughout I.V. By the time the sleeping and camping ordinance was passed in the spring of 2002, nearly all of I.V.’s parks were dry. However, once the camping ordinance was passed, the IVRPD became aware that this, along with several other ordinances including those banning alcohol in the parks, was not in compliance with a noticing law the board was not aware of. This law requires notices to be run in local newspapers for several weeks before an ordinance can take effect.
Due to this violation, the IVRPD has had to re-pass all ordinances in compliance with the noticing law. The camping and sleeping ordinance has been reinstated, along with the ordinance banning alcohol in all parks under the IVRPD’s jurisdiction. These ordinances took effect on Sept. 1, 2002.
The Isla Vista Alcohol and Other Drugs Council has requested that the IVRPD open this topic up for discussion at their meeting tonight in order to receive feedback from the community, especially regarding the impact of these ordinances on the local homeless population. Recently, residents of I.V. have expressed concern regarding the behavior of homeless who frequently drink in the parks as well as the possibility of criminal backgrounds among the homeless.
After several incidents involving homeless people, Russ Birchim, former lieutenant of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, ran background checks on some of the homeless cited for camping in the parks over the summer. Birchim’s findings were summarized during the Sept. 5 meeting of the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District, which also included the proposal to discuss the ban of alcohol consumption in public parks. The background checks found that one man who frequents Sueno Orchard was recently released from prison after serving ten years for child molestation. Birchim said at least two other convicted or suspected felons had been sighted among I.V.’s local homeless.
According to the draft minutes of the meeting, “Serious concerns were expressed about the heightened criminal element among transients who were attracted to Isla Vista during the highly publicized interim period before effective camping and sleeping laws went into effect.”
Local homeless were also implicated in two rapes that were reported in August on the Embarcadero ramp near Sueno Park, the minutes stated. These crimes, along with the results of the background checks, have prompted complaints from local residents.
IVRPD board member Diane Conn said there has been a rise in criminal activity among I.V.’s homeless population due to a recent influx of transients in I.V. The IVRPD discovered in January that ordinances restricting the homeless from residing in Santa Barbara’s parks did not extend to I.V. Although a law banning sleeping and camping was passed by the IVRPD in the spring, Conn said the transient population has grown significantly in the past six months. The increase could be attributed to a large push to allow a campground in Isla Vista by homeless and homeless advocates, or to the fact that the current laws are more lenient in I.V. than outside the IVRPD’s jurisdiction.
“We’ve always known [the homeless] around here; we’ve always known who’s on meds and who’s on heroin,” Conn said. “The influx brought people we don’t know who are a lot more hard-core. They know it’s easier to be a transient here, which causes more of a problem. We’re having crimes from transients we didn’t have before.”
IVRPD board member Ariana Katovich said more homeless came to I.V. once the word got out that I.V. is more tolerant toward the homeless than Santa Barbara.
“With more people coming in, we saw a rise in crime,” Katovich said. “We had two stabbings involving homeless people within one week.”
Katovich said the homeless population has decreased since the implementation of the ordinance prohibiting overnight camping, but the decrease may or may not be directly related to the ordinance.
“Some people leave during the winter because the winter shelters open up, so it’s hard to say,” Katovich said. “Some residents are permanent, some are seasonal, and some are completely random. That’s just the homeless nature.”
Daniel Cardenas, a long-time homeless resident of I.V. who refers to himself as “The Wizard” said he thinks the ordinances directed toward the homeless are hypocritical and only serve to stereotype the homeless population.
“Yes, I have a lot of anger and frustration, but I’d never hurt anyone,” Cardenas said. “The students here commit more crimes than I do, but a lot of people don’t give a shit. If one homeless does something, they label all of us as evil.”
Conn said the primary concern of the IVRPD is public health and safety.
“I want people to enjoy the parks and be safe, I don’t want to harbor [the homeless] people,” Conn said. “I’m bummed that people are taking over the parks and being rude to other people.”
Conn said several IVRPD staff members proposed the ordinance, backed by the IVAOD council that prohibits consumption of alcohol in public parks, in response to complaints about homeless drinking in the parks and harassing people. Conn said she hopes to receive feedback from the community regarding this ordinance at the IVRPD meeting tonight.
“We’re not sure if we want to make every park dry or if we should organize a community to take back some of the parks,” Conn said. “It shouldn’t be against the law for people to gather in the park, play Frisbee, drink and party. It’s not fair that a few assholes ruin it for everyone.”
Katovich said people have only expressed concern over homeless drinking in the parks.
“People don’t have problems with students drinking in the park, or a couple sharing a bottle of wine in the park,” she said. “People are only concerned with the homeless because they tend to get belligerent and alcoholic, and they’re using this as an excuse to ban alcohol in the parks.”