Isla Vista got hosed again last week – after getting hosed pretty good last June. Both of these are follow-ups to the Big Hosing of some 40 years ago.
Ever wonder why I.V. apartments are so packed together, with little off-street parking, and some structures built so close to the bluff that they’re falling into the ocean piece by piece? Back in the ’60s, a couple of UC Regents owned large properties in or near Isla Vista. Decisions were made to leave I.V. for private development and to set UCSB’s enrollment at 25,000. This set off a building boom in Isla Vista, which was mostly financed by a Goleta-based savings and loan bank with a board of directors that included agents of these landowning Regents and the UCSB chancellor. The county did its part when the supervisors created zoning allowing less set backs and fewer parking spaces per bedroom than anywhere else in the state.
It wasn’t pretty, but the university and the county fought like cats and dogs to keep Isla Vista under their iron fist, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fend off three widely supported campaigns throughout the ’70s and ’80s to form a city of Isla Vista. An elected city government would likely force absentee landlords to keep up their properties, police officers to treat all residents humanely and an auto-centered transportation system to be largely replaced by a bike-centered one – all things offensive to the local ruling classes. For example, one supervisor was a Ford dealer. All three campaigns to hold an election on establishing a city of Isla Vista were defeated 4 to 1 by a county panel that was 4 to 1 Republican during an era when over 75 percent of Isla Vistans voted Democratic.
In the 1990s, with the encouragement from the university, the county declared Isla Vista so “blighted” that it established the Isla Vista Redevelopment Agency (RDA) with a long-term budget of nearly $80 million. Many student and community leaders went along with this effort, seeing it as an opportunity to greatly improve the quality of life for generations to come.
But what actually happened? The draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) came out last spring, with public hearings set during Dead Week. How insulting to a community that’s roughly half students! One newspaper quoted some county bureaucrat lamenting that only one student spoke at that hearing. To call that person disingenuous is to be too kind because the proposed final EIR came out just before Thanksgiving with hearings set to begin this week and continue through Dead Week and Finals Week.
Even more appalling is the fact that the draft EIR only studied options that added more cars into Isla Vista and dedicated 60 percent of the redevelopment money available over the first few years to adding parking structures – this in a town that has long supported auto-reduction as a major community goal. For this and other reasons, such as eliminating at least ten of the two dozen immitigable negative environmental impacts of the present plan, several former elected officials in Isla Vista, including myself, officially requested that the Final EIR include an auto-reduction alternative.
In this era of global warming, Isla Vista is the perfect place to teach people how to get along without the automobile. After all, the town is: only one-half square mile in size, 70 percent between the ages of 18-24, mostly college students, a place were traffic starts on bicycles greatly exceed those in cars and 95 percent absentee-owned. All of this has been true for over 35 years and will most likely remain true for the next 35.
However, this request has been ignored in the proposed final EIR. What was initially seen as the chance for the county to finally get it right in Isla Vista will, in fact, mostly benefit propertied interests rather than the wider community. That’s why the county doesn’t want the vast majority of Isla Vista residents to see what it’s doing. Be sure that these hosings will continue until Isla Vista becomes a city.
Carmen Lodise is the author of Isla Vista: A Citizen’s History and a former community activist.