Students, A.S. Call For Community Service District; Officials Remain Doubtful
When tear-gassed strangers came stumbling down Pasado Road, lost and confused after the Deltopia riots, local parks official and 30-year Isla Vista resident Pegeen Soutar did more than offer them washcloths and water. As a member of the Isla Vista Parks and Recreation District, she thought about the future of community voice in the governing of Isla Vista.
As it stands now, Isla Vista is an unincorporated district. According to fifth-year biological anthropology major Josh Plotke, I.V. is basically Santa Barbara County’s “unwanted stepchild.” Plotke said I.V. produces a decent amount of money for the County, but the money goes to other areas of the County rather than toward resources and improvements for the small student community.
Without proper public representation, Plotke said, small projects like installing streetlights and sidewalks will continue to be swapped for embellishments to downtown locations.
In the aftermath of Deltopia, Plotke has looked to one solution for increasing the autonomy of I.V. — making it a Community Services District, or CSD. If made into a CSD, I.V. would have its own independent form of governance.
As defined in a 2001 report of local government options for I.V., a CSD would absorb all independently-run services in the district under one governing body. Currently, the I.V. Parks and Recreation District, or IVPRD, is the only such service in the community, and it includes an attached administration and elected board. By definition, a CSD would absorb the IVPRD’s authoritative powers, as well as control over street lighting and landscaping from the County. Services such as water supply, wastewater treatment, law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services would be left untouched.
According to Plotke, a CSD would give I.V. the representation it lacks — a problem that was brought to the forefront by regular cases of sexual harassment and the violent Deltopia riots last month. In light of these issues and the lack of physical infrastructure such as public walkways, Plotke said I.V. is in need of more for its community.
“There’s supposed to be sidewalks everywhere,” Plotke said. “And if this was actually a politically organized area, there’d be sidewalks a long time ago.”
However, Soutar said a CSD is not the answer to I.V.’s woes. In response to Deltopia in particular, Soutar said the event will only wind down once there is a local cultural shift and students stop inviting out-of-towners and become more conscious of their surrounding community. Basically, no one but the residents can fix this issue, she said.
“To create another whole layer of government — to add sidewalks or more lighting — does not seem like the right direction for me.”
Instead, she suggests creating advisory board to give the half-square mile of I.V. some sort of voice in the County. However, the controversy lies in how members of this board would be selected and in determining what larger governing body this board would be a part of, Soutar said.
For Soutar, the board would feature four key players: main governing bodies of I.V., law enforcement, other I.V. groups and additional stakeholders. Sitting with the main governing bodies is a representative from Santa Barbara County, one from IVRPD and one from the University. Law enforcement includes the County Sheriff and representatives from the UC Police Department and I.V. Foot Patrol. Other I.V. groups at the table may include the housing co-ops, the I.V. Tenants Union and the I.V. Youth Project. Student and non-student residents, property owners and homeowners would be present as additional stakeholders.
According to Associated Students External Vice President for Local Affairs-elect Beatrice Contreras, her ideal table focuses on more communication between the University and the I.V. community, as well as between local law enforcement and A.S. Contreras said she seeks to establish a forum for students to communicate with law enforcement officials like the UCPD and IVFP.
“The year progressed and I began to think to myself, especially after the sexual assaults, ‘Wow, we need to mobilize. We need to do something,’” Contreras said.
The idea of a CSD has been gathering momentum in A.S., as EVPLA Alex Moore said he came across the idea last fall while researching alternatives to making I.V. an actual city. Now the idea is gaining more fans, as Contreras said making I.V. into a CSD is an idea that seems to resonate with students.
“One thing that really affects everything that goes on is representation, and we don’t have a lot of that,” Contreras said.
She said students in I.V. receive representation in two ways: through the IVRPD and A.S. local affairs members attending County board meetings. Nonstudents, however, do not necessarily have their voices heard.
“The EVPLA does a lot of the work for representing students, but oftentimes that means that nonstudent community members don’t have their voices represented,” Contreras said.
According to Contreras, County installment of surveillance cameras instead of using the money for streetlights or bystander intervention training stood as an example of when the voices of I.V. residents were lost.
“If we had funneled all those reactive measures into more proactive measures, I think that that could have really helped,” Contreras said.
In addition, Contreras said the University has had little to do with Deltopia in previous years. But now, the University must start to address the issue of Deltopia and get more involved in educating students on what can go wrong during such events and how to deal with those consequences, she said.
“The University has a lot of connections that could have really helped mediate the situation,” Contreras said, “Instead, it just blatantly ignored it, kind of pushed it under the rug.”
Meanwhile, Moore said the process to come up with a solution to Deltopia is highly challenging. Moore said the majority of people unanimously agree that the event cannot continue on without intervention, but “no one necessarily sees a path forward.”
“It’s been pretty hard to find some leadership as far as students go on that,” Moore said.
According to Plotke, he has been researching the possibility of a CSD since last summer, before coming to A.S. to present his ideas in the fall. However, when Plotke met with Moore, the two came to disagreements over their respective CSD plans and aspirations.
“It just doesn’t make any sense that he would try to shut me down when I was secretly his biggest asset,” Plotke said.
Since then, Plotke and Moore have been each carrying out their own plans for creating a CSD.
Moore said he hopes future EVPLAs will continue to work on building the momentum for a CSD so it could possibly be on the ballot in November during the general election period.
“It’s going to take more than just one person to figure out how to fix and bring some self-governance to Isla Vista,” Moore said. “It’s not going to be a solo crusade.”
Despite the efforts of both Plotke and Moore, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said he is reluctant to believe a CSD will solve the problem of an out-of-control Deltopia and other community problems. His opinion is similar to Soutar’s since he said he does not believe a self-governing community is the actual key to solving Deltopia-like events.
“It’s a recurring event, but it started almost in a spontaneous manner,” Brown said. “As it has continued and has recurred year after year, I’m not quite sure it would make a whole lot of difference whether it was in a city or in the County or in a special district.”
In response, Plotke said he feels skeptical of the Sheriff’s allegiance to Isla Vista.
“I’m sure he’s way more worried about whatever’s happening in the rest of the County,” Plotke said. “The only time that worries him is when I.V. gets a riot or something.”
In fact, opposition to a CSD may be due to officials trying to prevent I.V. from having more control over County money, according to Plotke.
“There’s an interest for things not to go well. As long as things are a mess and there’s no governance, they’re just jacking the money,” Plotke said. “But as soon as there are actually people watching over, all of the sudden, they’re not going to be able to keep stealing from the pot.”
Rodney Gould, general manager of the IVPRD, said Plotke is missing two key numbers in his argument: the amount of the current property taxes that would stay in I.V. and what portion of this money would go to the County. Gould also said the financial feasibility of a CSD is questionable.
In addition, Gould said another one of his main concerns is that potential board members who lack a “long-term stake” in the community will impose measures on people who are “stuck here, left paying for the consequences.”
Regarding the implementation of an advisory board, Soutar said while one would be nice, individual residents can make a difference in the community at this very moment. For her, the issue is not the noise, the booze or even the party vibe — all she wants is the elimination of violence and crime.
“I dig this place — I like how creative people are; I like how fun people are … I don’t mind the loud noise; I don’t mind the beer pong everywhere — that doesn’t bug me,” Soutar said. “I just don’t want the violence; I don’t want the destruction. I don’t want to see women getting harassed and guys getting beat up.”
Photo by John Clow / Daily Nexus
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, May 5, 2014 edition of the Daily Nexus.