Pledging to continue their crusade for the evicted tenants of the Cedarwood Apartments and for an increase in university service workers’ wages, Tent City protesters packed up their possessions Friday, ending their 16-day campout in front of Storke Tower.
The activists said the university placed pressure on them to leave the premises, despite the fact that neither issue was resolved to their satisfaction: The Cedarwood tenants settled with the property’s new owner in court last week on what supporters said were unfair terms, while UCSB service workers have yet to receive a wage increase they claim they are owed. Regardless, the protesters swore on Friday to continue pursuing the causes.
Former Associated Students President and protest organizer Cervin Morris said the activists had been pressured to leave their campsite by the university, and cited Parents’ Weekend – held these past few days – as a potential reason.
“The university put so much pressure on us that we have to leave, otherwise they would have us removed,” Morris said at the closing rally. “It’s Parents’ Weekend and the administration doesn’t want people to see that a top university cannot pay workers enough and that students have to protest on their behalf.”
When Tent City was first erected on Oct. 17, protesters demanded the release of $3.2 million in pay increases for university service workers, citing a claim from the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees that the state had set aside that amount of money in its 2006 budget.
Chancellor Henry T. Yang denied that the funds existed, and the state budget in fact shows no such allocation. Yang previously said he had spoken to the University of California Office of the President about the matter and concluded he could not access the money.
As for the Cedarwood tenants who settled last week, Morris said the protestors will now focus their energy on petitioning the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to pass a Just Cause Ordinance. This is a law local governments can pass that forbids landlords from evicting tenants without proper cause, such as destruction of property.
“We have to put pressure on the Board of Supervisors and pass a Just Cause Ordinance,” Morris said. “Don’t look at this as the end, but look at it is as the beginning of something new.”
Last Tuesday, each tenant or family of tenants accepted a settlement from the property’s owner that required the return of their security deposit, no eviction shown on their records and an extended period of time to move, the last day of which is Dec. 1.
The tenants, who are mostly low-income Latino families, sued on the basis of discrimination after they received 30-day eviction notices in mid-August. They claimed the owner, allegedly Los Angeles-based Conquest Student Housing, threw them out in order to rent to students at a higher rate.
Kelly Burns, a fourth-year global studies major and former A.S. Vice President of Local Affairs, said Isla Vista should be safeguarded from such evictions. Without the Just Cause Ordinance, she said Conquest could easily continue buying property and in turn evict more families.
“Right now, it is completely legal for Conquest to kick families out of their homes,” Burns said. “The human side doesn’t matter, that’s why we need to make a change through a Just Cause Ordinance.”
UCSB student Victor Frankel, one of the protestors at Friday’s closing rally, said he believed the charge that the evicted residents were discriminated against.
“This is discrimination on the grounds of socioeconomic and class status,” Frankel said. “We must make the County Board of Supervisors realize that they can’t marginalize these people.”
Frankel said he believes Conquest’s behavior is comparable to European colonial expansion in the 15th century.
“We need to let Conquest know we won’t let them treat us like they did in the conquest of 1492,” Frankel said.