While Halloween crowds in Isla Vista this past weekend broke plenty of car mirrors and left plenty of trash, staff members at the Isla Vista Teen Center say the antics of drunken college students also left their mark on the town’s younger residents.
From college-aged students urinating in plain view of teenagers participating in I.V. Teen Center Halloween activities, to weekend sloshball games on the teen center’s lawn, teen center Health Educator Jacob Sandoval said it is difficult to steer teenagers away from drug and alcohol abuse when they witness the behavior of local college students.
“We try to motivate [teens] to pursue higher education, but they don’t see the studying component,” Sandoval said. “They’re only seeing the partying component.”
Yesenia Curiel, an I.V. Teen Center case manager, said the center must constantly compete with the “glamorization” of alcohol use and partying by college students. She said a huge Heineken beer banner hanging from a residence on the 6700 block of Sueno Road is clearly visible to children when they’re at the center.
“We’ve been trying to get them to take it down,” Curiel said. “We’re trying to motivate these kids to stay away from alcohol.”
Jeff Jones, a first-year graphic design major at Santa Barbara City College who lives at the house with the large banner said the sign “probably is a negative influence” on the kids who see it from the teen center.
“But it’s not like the kids aren’t exposed to alcohol advertising everywhere they go anyway,” Jones said. “I understand why they would want us to take it down, but it’s not up to me.”
Bill Peterson, a third-year mechanical engineering major at UCSB and another resident of the Sueno house, said it was a group decision to leave the banner up, even after being asked to remove it by teen center staff.
“We’re not taking it down,” Peterson said. “This is a college town, not a little kid town.”
Sandoval, who has worked at the center for two and a half years and heads the drug and alcohol discussion group, said it’s a “big myth” that college students make up Isla Vista’s total population.
“There are over 4,000 permanent residents, 1,000 of which are children under 18,” Sandoval said
While rain showers on Oct. 31 moved pumpkin carving and face painting activities at the center indoors, Sandoval said large crowds of college students in close proximity to the center, which is located at the corner of Camino Del Sur and Abrego Road, forced the cancellation of the evening’s planned Halloween dance.
“I saw people peeing outside, not using a bathroom,” said 15-year-old Jessica Chavez, who has been coming to the center for four years and was there Halloween night. “They didn’t have so many clothes on. I feel bad; there were a lot of little kids out there trick-or-treating.”
Sandoval said the center did not have enough staff to ensure a safe environment for the teenagers, 20 to 40 of whom had participated in activities between 6 and 8:30 p.m. The center operates with a total staff of five, but only two of them work full-time, he said.
“There were kids who wanted to come but their parents thought it would be better for them to just stay inside,” Curiel said.
“We changed our plans and put on scary movies, but many of the kids were turned off because they wanted to dance,” Sandoval said. “It’s frustrating trying to keep them inside when instead they want to go out and see what’s going on. A lot of them went to DP.”
Curiel said the center cannot legally keep the kids there if they want to leave. Of the kids that left the center to go out to DP on Halloween night, she said the youngest was a 7th grader, and the oldest was only 16. She said a lot of their parents work “twenty-four-seven” and cannot watch their kids all the time.
“We can only do so much,” Curiel said. “I hear the kids talk about seeing burning couches, and I ask them what they think about it. They say that’s wrong, but to them, is that what college is all about?”
Sandoval said budget cuts have decreased UCSB funding of the teen center from a high of $100,000 per year in 1998 when the center opened to a present annual rate of $4,000. The center gets most of its operating money in the form of grants from entities like Santa Barbara County, which Sandoval said gave $10,000 last year.
The center’s proximity to UCSB should be a positive influence for the children, but college student behavior turns it into a negative one, Sandoval said.
“The kids see college students getting drunk and having a good time,” he said. “They’re given this false image of how things should be.”