After 31 meetings in 18 months, the committee charged with the task of redeveloping Isla Vista passed a motion at 10:13 on Wednesday night approving its recommendation of a plan for the future I.V. – but not without hours of heated debate, passionate public comments and just plain bickering.
During a special two-night session, Project Area and General Plan Area Committee members met Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hillel center to make their final recommendations on priority, cost and language specifications of the more than 40 programs and projects that make up the current draft plan. All elements of the draft plan aim to enhance I.V.’s looks, traffic flow and parking.
From parking meters and landscape renovations, to residential facade improvements and traffic calming measures, the PAC/GPAC passed several motions that ranked priority of projects to be completed anywhere between zero and 20 years after the plan is adopted by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.
A PAC/GPAC representative will present the recommended version of the I.V. Master Plan to the board for approval July 22.
Jaime Goldstein, county planner in charge of the Isla Vista Master Plan, said he expects the board to approve the plan and direct county staff to begin writing the environmental impact review (EIR) document. It should take the staff six to nine months to complete the EIR.
After the EIR is completed and then approved by the PAC/GPAC, Goldstein said the entire plan needs to be approved by the California Coastal Commission before construction can begin on major projects that may affect availability of coastal access, like roadwork or parking meters. He said major projects might not begin until 2005.
“I’m really happy with where we’ve gone,” Goldstein said. “It’s been a little over a year of meetings. I think we’ve come to a remarkable consensus.”
Goldstein said the PAC/GPAC has made progress that he did not think possible a year ago, given the broad range of community interests the group represents.
Members of the PAC/GPAC applauded the final gavel by Holly Jo Sparks, PAC/GPAC chair, which adjourned the meeting.
“The most important thing is that we’ve come to a consensus on a lot of issues in this draft, especially on transportation and housing issues that started out very contentious,” Sparks said. “Everything starts out contentious, but that’s why it’s a cool process.”
“Isla Vistans have a lot of opinions, but had everyone from the community attended, we would have eventually reached a consensus. People tend to only come for the issues they are interested in,” she said.
While the PAC/GPAC has regularly addressed issues relating to parking availability, Lou Ventura, a local business owner and PAC/GPAC member, said he is disappointed that parking in Isla Vista has become the number-one issue.
“I believe that we’re ignoring the real crux of the problem by creating a parking permit program,” Ventura said. “We’re putting a financial burden on students. [The permit program] organizes the problem, but it doesn’t solve the real problem of too many cars on the road.”
“The PAC does not want to spend money on a parking structure,” he said. “They’ve stuck their heads in the sand. What the [parking permit program] will end up doing is pushing the problem into Goleta.”
Ventura said he has felt “like a puppet” for most of the PAC/GPAC process because he feels that the county of Santa Barbara and UCSB have their own plans for Isla Vista.
“We’re just an advisory committee,” Ventura said. “What the [county] chooses to do with our recommendations is another story.”
Despite his disagreement with the PAC/GPAC recommendations on parking solutions, Ventura said the PAC/GPAC has worked well together.
“We all came in with different pieces of the puzzle and had to compromise,” he said.
“These have been some really difficult discussions,” said Mike Foley, a representative from the Isla Vista Teen Center and a PAC/GPAC member. “The people who have come to these discussions have been very dedicated.”
Foley won last-minute support for a motion recommending $2.5 million for an Isla Vista Community Center as part of the draft master plan, despite opposition to the high figure, given future California state budget uncertainties.
“It’s time to heed the call of voters in the community who want [the community center] to move forward,” he said.
UCSB Associated Students PAC/GPAC representative Scott McDowell and A.S. President Chrystine Lawson agreed that the large dollar figure attached to a community center was appropriate.
Arthur Kennedy, a representative from I.V. Youth Projects and a PAC/GPAC member, said the PAC/GPAC process has kept narrowing down decisions to be made for the community’s future.
“We don’t agree 100 percent,” Kennedy said. “But when we’re finished, we can say that the community has made a decision.”
Although PAC/GPAC members represent a variety of interests, McDowell said that individual agendas do not have a disproportional amount of influence.
“There is a certain amount of bias,” McDowell said. “But one person’s bias can’t carry a vote.”
The PAC/GPAC was formed in September 2001 by the board of supervisors to advise the county in developing a master plan for the redevelopment of Isla Vista. It consists of 13 local business owners, property owners, homeowners and representatives from local community groups like the I.V. Tenants Union and Santa Barbara Housing Co-op.