The eviction crisis at Cedarwood marks a low point in Isla Vista’s history. Now more than ever, it is important for Isla Vistans to remember that such mistreatment could have been avoided if I.V. had incorporated into a city.
Isla Vista, in technical terms, is a “census designated place” and not a sovereign city. That means that in Isla Vista, most of the governmental functions normally carried out by a municipal government are assumed by the county and private corporations. It also means that there is no public official held directly accountable to I.V.’s citizens.
Isla Vista has already tried to incorporate itself three times in the ’70s and ’80s. Each attempt won widespread support from the residents of I.V. but was fiercely opposed by UCSB and many county officials. Each proposal for incorporation ultimately had to be ratified by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), an unelected board who voted 4 to 1 against all of the proposals. Members of LAFCO feared that an incorporated I.V. would impose rent control – a blow to absentee landlords.
As a city, I.V. could aggressively fight for tenant’s rights. It could impose restrictions on landlords, provide affordable housing and improve the quality of life. Rent control, a measure that restricts rent increases for long-term residents, would be particularly beneficial to I.V.’s non-student community. Such a measure could have mitigated the damage done to working class families by the Cedarwood evictions, or prevented them entirely.
Incorporated I.V. would also be financially viable. A 1985 report found that an incorporated I.V. could provide three times the level of service provided by the county for an extra $18 per residence per year tax. I.V. would also be able to use tax revenue generated within its borders. Currently, most of I.V.’s tax money goes to the city of Goleta and the county, little of which is actually used to improve I.V. The only government organization in I.V. that does receive proper funding is the Foot Patrol. That speaks for itself.
The closest thing I.V. has to a mayor is the county’s 3rd district supervisor, Brooks Firestone, who is in charge of everything between UCSB and the southern border of Santa Maria. To his credit, Firestone has issued a few sympathetic statements to the evicted tenants of Cedarwood. In addition, he has consistently shown that he is aware of Isla Vista and can probably find it on a map. But he also has more pressing concerns, like fighting with other supervisors over a Montecito planning committee, pressing legislation which would make 573 acres of his own land more valuable, and trying to repeal a north county oak preservation ordinance.
Unfortunately, the dream of I.V. incorporation will probably not happen. County leaders are apathetic. Absentee landlords would be upset at the prospect of increased standards of living in I.V. and less profit for them. UCSB leaders would not approve. Affluent residents of Santa Barbara and Goleta would be intent on keeping the I.V. degenerates from obtaining any political influence. And if an incorporation proposal ever makes it to LAFCO again, it will probably get voted down. Regrettably, there is not much I.V. residents can do about this.
It is due to the county supervisors, the landlords and the LAFCO members that the Cedarwood residents were made to leave their homes. To paraphrase John Steinbeck, “There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize.”