Alcohol consumption in several parks along Del Playa Drive may soon become off-limits to those who do not first purchase a permit.
Mirroring an ordinance adopted in May 2004 by the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District which banned drinking alcohol without first obtaining a permit in IVRPD-owned parks, the Project Area Committee and General Plan Advisory Committee voted last night to recommend the same type of permit program for parks owned by Santa Barbara County. Both ordinances aim to prevent health and safety problems associated with people who gather at the parks – many of them homeless – who are consistently drunk.
PAC/GPAC members, who met at 6:30 p.m. at the Francisco Torres Residence Hall, also voted to recommend the county sell two vacant pieces of land on DP in order to buy five other parcels on DP’s 6700 block that would be used to develop a new park. In addition, PAC/GPAC members selected Bryan Brown, Santa Barbara Housing Co-op representative, as their new vice-chairman.
Several PAC/GPAC members voiced their support for the alcohol permit ordinance, saying such a permit program was necessary to ensure that families and children do not feel intimidated by the constant presence of drunks in local parks. However, Todd Roberson, the UCSB Associated Students representative on the PAC/GPAC, along with several members of the public, argued that a permit program would push Isla Vista’s homeless and consistent drunks down to the beaches, where such a program would not be in effect.
The proposed program would cover Pelican Park, Sea Lookout Park, the 6700 block Del Playa open space and all of the DP beach access pathways and stairs, said Jamie Goldstein, project manager for the Isla Vista Master Plan.
“To be honest, it was a hard decision on the part of the supervisor,” said Mark Chaconas, executive assistant to 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall. “But the balance here was one of public safety.”
Mike Foley, who represents Isla Vista Youth Projects on the PAC/GPAC, said people are “… literally drinking themselves to death in the parks.” He said surveys conducted by high school and university students confirmed that Isla Vista residents were afraid to enter many IVRPD-owned parks prior to the ban on drinking alcohol without a permit. He said the permit program has made “huge progress” in allowing families to feel safe using the parks and that it should be expanded to include county-owned parks.
“The issue is saving lives,” Brown said. “If you walk into one of these parks … if you’ve seen the condition these people are in – it’s not funny when you have people who are mentally ill who come here to die…”
Roberson said he was strongly opposed to the ordinance because he thought problems with consistent drunks in local parks could be solved through enforcement of existing laws that ban offenses such as public intoxication, urination and possession of open containers of alcohol. He also said enforcement of existing laws would take the same amount of police effort as would enforcement of a permit program.
“[The ordinance] punishes those who aren’t responsible for the problems,” Roberson said. “If people are worried about students abusing alcohol in the parks, those problems can be solved through enforcement of existing laws. The intentions behind this [ordinance] are to deal with homeless people.”
Jared Renfro, Associated Students External Vice President, told the PAC/GPAC during a period of public comment that just as the IVRPD’s permit program pushed the homeless and consistently drunk to county-owned parks, the county’s permit program will again cause a migration.
“The people migrated once, they’re going to migrate again, they’re going to go to the beach…” Renfro said,
Diane Conn, an IVRPD director, agreed with Renfro, saying the homeless problem would move to the Isla Vista coastline and out-of-sight and out-of-mind for the county.
“So now where are they going to go? To the beaches,” Conn said. “The women down at the beach are going to be even more endangered.”
In response to a question from Roberson, Derrick Johnson, IVRPD general manager, said whether a permit applicant is homeless has no effect on his or her chance of obtaining a permit. However, he said the IVRPD will not issue permits to people who are drunk, under the influence of drugs, or have previously violated park district policy.
“We won’t deny permits based on how [applicants] look or how they presented themselves,” Johnson said.
Like the IVRPD permit program, a permit for one person to consume alcohol in a county park would cost $10 and a permit for two to 10 people would cost $35. The permits would be distributed by the IVRPD and each would last four hours. According to the proposed ordinance, the Isla Vista Foot Patrol would conduct enforcement by issuing violators a citation costing as much as $100.
Although PAC/GPAC members voted in favor of the ordinance by an eight to two margin, with two abstentions, the board of supervisors must officially vote to implement the permit plan. The supervisors are scheduled to discuss the ordinance at their Dec. 7 meeting, at which time they will also accept public comment.
Roberson and Renfro unsuccessfully pressed the PAC/GPAC to postpone its vote to allow more time for student comment since the Dec. 7 board of supervisors meeting falls during finals week at UCSB.
“To not [postpone the vote] would be to disenfranchise a large number of Isla Vista residents,” Renfro said.
In other PAC/GPAC business, committee members voted to endorse a county plan to purchase five privately-owned parcels of vacant land on the ocean side of DP’s 6700 block. The combination of the existing seven parcels of county land will create a space suitable for a large public park.
“What this deal is giving us is a large contiguous tract of open space on the bluffs,” Goldstein said. “We have a young community … we have a lot of passive recreation, but we need more active recreation.”
Chaconas said the deal is the product of lengthy closed-door negotiations between the county and a willing property owner. He said the county will come up with the roughly $2.5 million purchase price using profits from the sale of two isolated tracts of county land along the ocean side of DP and through a variety of state and local grants. He said the land the county will be selling at market rate is subject to development by the private sector under zoning regulations allowing up to eight units per acre.
“If we miss this opportunity, [the owner] will place these parcels on the open market and sell them individually,” Chaconas said. “For all intensive purposes, this is the last opportunity to pull this off.”
Chaconas said grant money for the deal will come from the Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund, the state Energy Emission Mitigation Program and the Goleta Valley Land Trust. Johnson said the IVRPD will also be contributing $50,000 in grant money for the project.