Isla Vista residents who use outdoor couches for studying under the sun and heckling drunks on Del Playa may lose those privileges thanks to a proposed county ordinance designed to stop those who prefer using couches for firewood.
The ordinance, set to go before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in the next couple months, would prohibit indoor furniture from outdoor areas. Indoor furniture would be defined as anything upholstered; plastic lawn furniture would not be in violation. The ordinance, intended primarily to stop couch fires in the streets of I.V., would go into effect in January if passed.
Brad Spencer, Santa Barbara County code enforcement officer, said many I.V. residents do not realize the cost of a couch fire. Beyond requiring a fire truck manned by three firefighters and a deputy sheriff car with two officers, street fires also cause costly damage to the pavement, he said.
“Just last Christmas, almost all of I.V. was repaved. By mid-February, we already had 19 spots damaged by fire between Del Playa and Pasado alone,” Spencer said.
The cost of a couch fire goes far beyond money, said Capt. Charlie Johnson of the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept.
“The kids who set these fires don’t see the harm, but try telling that to a firefighter who is delayed en route to a real emergency because he’s putting out a couch or dumpster fire,” he said.
Johnson said his department puts out around one or two fires per weekend night during the quarter, but that number jumps to four or five as the end of the school year approaches and vacating students choose to burn unwanted couches.
The proposed ordinance follows other recent measures by the county to eliminate the problem, such as soaking discarded couches with water and upgrading the offense to felony arson.
“The D.A.’s office is prosecuting couch burners quite stringently,” former Isla Vista Foot Patrol Lt. Russ Birchim said. “The fine alone is usually around six or seven hundred dollars, and they have their option; they can lose their license or go to alcohol awareness classes.”
The ordinance is modeled after a similar measure in Boulder, Colorado, said Carlyle Johnston of the Santa Barbara County Dept. of Public Works.
“They had a big problem with couch fires in Boulder, and we know that it’s a tradition here in Isla Vista,” he said.
Johnston said enforcement of the ordinance would fall upon property managers, who may face a fine if indoor furniture is found outdoors at their property. Nonetheless, he said that most property managers are supportive of the proposal.
“Most of them already include a clause in their leases that says you can’t have indoor furniture outdoors,” he said. “This ordinance will give them more of an incentive to enforce that clause so they won’t get fined.”
Some property managers may choose to protect themselves in other ways. Valerie Johnson of SFM- Vista Del Mar Property Management said, should the ordinance pass, her company might include a clause in their leases stating that any such fines would be passed along to the tenants.
The passing of the ordinance would come as a disappointment to many I.V. residents who choose to sit on couches rather than burn them.
“It’s nice to have on a sunny day, just to chill and read,” UCSB junior communication major Sean Rorden said while relaxing on his patio couch on the 6600 block of Sabado Tarde.
Nonetheless, all possible measures should be taken to eliminate the fires, Capt. Johnson said, though he is not sure the new ordinance will be the final solution.
“I think it’s more of an attitude problem, rather than a couch problem,” Capt. Johnson said. “Certain people need to find a different way to blow off steam and have fun.”