The Isla Vista Recreation and Park District’s five-member Board of Directors will have four open positions in the upcoming Nov. 6 election.
With a staff of nine full-time employees and a board of five elected Isla Vista community members, IVRPD manages 23 parks within the district’s 50 acres and is the only official governing body with jurisdiction strictly within I.V. and voted in exclusively by I.V. residents. With staggered terms to ensure continuity, three out of four of the open seats are four-year positions, while the other serves for two years.
Running for the two-year term are UCSB students Joshua Renfro, a third-year global studies major and former intern for TuneIn Radio and College Works Painting, and Sawyeh Maghsoodloo, a third-year political science major and current field intern for State Senatorial Candidate Hannah-Beth Jackson. Running for the three available four-year terms are second-year UCSB political science major Alejandro Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Isla Vista Cooperative Jeff Bessmer, eight-year IVRPD Board member and 30-year I.V. resident Pegeen Soutar and home health aide Star Hunt.
According to IVRPD General Manager Rodney Gould, the board’s responsibilities are to maintain Isla Vista’s parks, work with undeveloped open space and parklands, handle graffiti abatement, facilitate the adopt-a-block program, pick up trash, establish and maintain community gardens and host recreational programs for the community.
“What is important to me is making sure the district is sustainable — that we are providing basic services, staying within the budget and also getting community members involved so that we can do the extra things we’d like to do but don’t have the budget for,” Gould said.
Bessmer, who worked as a public school teacher in Chicago before taking the reigns at the co-op, said he agrees that community involvement is important but argues that the board members should serve a broader governmental platform, including more connection with the community, transparency and public opportunity for input with less focus on operations and rule-setting.
“In a lot of past meetings, agenda items have been obscure. When people read the agenda online it isn’t clear, and so when the opportunity for the public [to participate] comes, they can’t actively engage,” Bessmer said. “Also, the board has been focused on small details, which makes organization less productive and takes away from long-term planning. [The board] should just trust the General Manager to handle these matters.”
Third District County Supervisor Doreen Farr said IVRPD’s role in maintaining and improving public spaces has become more important than ever since the dissolution of Santa Barbara County’s Redevelopment Agency, which helped fund renovation projects and upkeep in I.V.
“I think the community really looks to [IVRPD] for a lot of different things,” Farr said. “In this post-redevelopment world, there need to be serious discussions about what kind of local governance funding mechanisms we’re going to put in place for I.V. to make sure the community is well taken care of, not just [in terms of] maintenance of the park, but for all facilities as actions of redevelopment agency over decades.”
According to Isla Vista Community Advisor and Isla Vista Tenants Union chairperson Hilary Kleger, the community should do more to actively engage with IVRPD, either by attending meetings to raise concerns and share ideas or by emailing the Chair of the IVRPD Board.
“Because Isla Vista is unincorporated and IVRPD is the only officially elected board in IV, it is essential for students and all community members to be informed about the park district and get involved by attending meetings and participating in public comment at board meetings,” Kleger said in an e-mail. “The board is elected to represent the community of IV and they need to provide opportunity for public input and listen to community members, but the community members also need to be proactive and engage with the board and ensure their ideas and concerns are voiced.”
Isla Vista Co-op Member Services Coordinator Joshua Redman said the IVRPD Board currently does an inadequate job of involving I.V. residents in their discourse — a responsibility he feels should be one of their top priorities.
“Currently, [IVRPD] does the bare minimum in outreach to get residents to attend meetings and participate,” Redman said. “They provide little opportunity for the community to express concerns about decision they make, and when community members do voice concerns they are patronized and not listened to at all. It’s extremely frustrating.”
UCSB class of 2010 alumnus Max Golding said while the agency claims to keep a neutral stance on political issues outside the immediate realm of park maintenance and improvements, they have a record of overstepping their bounds.
“They push in weird ordinances, like trying to crack down on bad student behavior, which is understandable, but when you talk to them they say their only function is to maintain parks, and they don’t talk about politics,” Golding said. “Like during Occupy IV, some guys on the board were talking to cops and trying to get us arrested deliberately.”
Gould said IVRPD has always taken on more than their charter dictates to do the best job as community caretakers, though he does acknowledge a sense of disconnect between students and the department.
“We do hundreds of programs and field trips, almost all of them strictly for low-income families. We also have community gardens, all occupied by low-income families,” Gould said. “Also, we know every one of the homeless by name, and we keep bathrooms open at night so that they can use them. I do feel that we should have special rules and not allow behaviors from the homeless that we don’t allow other people to do, but we are in touch with the entire community, and if I were to pick any one community group we’re less in touch with it would be the students.”
According to Farr, it is essential that the county and IVRPD have some coordination of efforts in order to better solve local issues and that the students — the dominant force in the electorate — participate in local governance.
“Isla Vista needs a lot of money and needs a lot of time and effort from county staff. I think it’s going to be much more important in the future for the community to come out and support Isla Vista with funding,” Farr said. “Even though I.V. isn’t entirely made up of UCSB students, when they decide they want to get behind something, they can be a very powerful force to make things happen.”