A Look Back At Isla Vista’s Attempts, Triumphs and Failures regarding Self-Governance, Part III

Community members presented options such as a Municipal Advisory Council, Community Services District and cityhood. Kenneth Song/Daily Nexus

Community members during an October 2014 Isla Vista self-governance town hall presented options such as a Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), Community Services District (CSD) and cityhood. Kenneth Song/Daily Nexus


The self-governance conversation came up again for Isla Vista when Goleta sought cityhood in 2001. However, the resulting proposal to include I.V. and the university in the incorporation plan was voted down by the Santa Barbara County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) in May 2001 in a 6-1 decision.

The LAFCO commissioners who voted to exclude I.V. argued that the ballot for Goleta cityhood would not pass in the November 2001 election if the boundaries included I.V.

2001: Goleta Acquires Cityhood, Leaves I.V. to Status Quo

LAFCO Staff Executive Officer Bob Braitman said I.V. represented a community with a separate identity and different issues from that of Goleta.

“The Goleta Valley is a complex sub-region of Santa Barbara County,” Braitman said. “It’s unified in many ways, but it’s also very fragmented, both governmentally and in community identity. Many residents of the Goleta Valley perceive I.V. as a separate area, and the I.V. community itself identifies itself as unique.”

According to Braitman, I.V.’s distinct social environment distinguished it from Goleta in a way that merited its exclusion from cityhood.

“We could recommend inclusion of I.V. for various reasons, but we see community identity as a strong reason to recommend that the commission exclude Isla Vista and UCSB,” Braitman said.

Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District (IVRPD) Vice Chairperson Ariana Katovich said in an IVRPD meeting in April 2001 that a concern she had with the plan for inclusion was that it would dissolve the IVRPD entirely, placing I.V. affairs regularly overseen by the IVRPD Board under the control of the City of Goleta.

“We have been handling affairs in I.V. since 1972,” Katovitch said. “Goleta has no right to take that away from us. Goleta does not have the experience in I.V. park services. It is impossible that Goleta would be able to provide I.V. with a service that is better than what we currently have. We provide everything we do for free.”

Residents of Goleta such as Robert Conbright also voiced concern on the topic of student voters in I.V. having an influence over local politics, particularly in how money is allocated, given their temporary residence in I.V.

“If I.V. and UCSB are included, there are people there who will vote for things they will never have to pay for,” Conbright said. “I don’t want people who won’t be here 30 years from now to have a say in how our money is spent.”

Mark Chaconas, executive assistant to former Third District Supervisor and LAFCO Commissioner Gail Marshall, said the inclusion of I.V. into the new city of Goleta would provide greater state funding for the newly incorporated city as a result of I.V.’s dense population, with a 10-year surplus of $40.13 million provided if I.V. was included and $7.05 million if it was not.

“From a fiscal standpoint, the numbers are far more compelling,” Chaconas said. “The state provides subventions depending on population to new cities as a ‘jump start.’ I.V. brings a lot to the table, both financially and culturally.”

IVRPD member Diane Conn said in April 2001 that the possible inclusion provided the opportunity for I.V. to acquire enhanced services needed to develop and improve the I.V. region.

“Basically, we want urban services and local control,” Conn said. “The only way that I.V. will get the services it needs is to include the I.V./UCSB parcel within the boundaries of the new city. We want to work with Goleta to provide services and to support appropriate development and land use.”

Early 2000s: Desire For Cityhood Left Unfulfilled

Conn also said I.V. residents such as local business owner Jay Freeman expressed a desire to be annexed into the city as a solution for sought-after I.V. self-governance.

“[I.V. residents] wanted the benefits of actually having cityhood,” Freeman said.

According to Freeman, many Goleta citizens fought against including I.V. into Goleta because of its massive voting power and its broadly liberal base. This, he said, accounted for the end decision not to annex I.V. when the city of Goleta incorporated in 2002, leaving many I.V. residents dissatisfied.

“There was a lot of anger about Goleta not including Isla Vista and making it like an island,” Freeman said. “In the end, Isla Vista ended up getting left alone.”

Following the incorporation of Goleta in 2002 excluding I.V. from the new city’s boundaries, self-governance for I.V. mostly declined in political prominence for over a decade.

However, a number of important documents were issued between 2001 and 2003 by a grand jury of Santa Barbara County that assessed I.V.’s needs. In a 2001 report by the 2001-2002 jury called “Isla Vista: Who’s In Charge” and a 2003 report called, “Isla Vista: Take Charge” the jury made recommendations for moving forward with a stronger form of government for I.V. The 2001 report included a strong recommendation to establish a CSD for I.V. It found that existing entities in I.V., including the I.V. Redevelopment District, an agency responsible for overseeing infrastructure maintenance in I.V., did not have the existing funds to properly meet I.V.’s development needs, including the development of appropriate sidewalks.

Among the recommendations issued by the report included a request to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors to establish an agency to “correct the numerous problems” in I.V. Despite the recommendations, the Board of Supervisors took little action on the CSD proposal.

2014: Violence, Unrest and Tragedy in I.V. Spark Self-Governance Discussion

On the evening of April 6, 2014, during the third annual Deltopia streetparty that drew thousands of non-residents from across the state to I.V., an altercation between a partygoer and a local police officer exploded into violence. 17-year-old Desmond Louis Edwards from Los Angeles struck a police officer in the head with a bag containing multiple glass bottles of alcohol, severely injuring the officer and initiating an arrest attempt by accompanying deputies.

A riot ensued, pitting surrounding partygoers against police and resulting in hundreds of students and visitors teargassed and shot at with rubber bullets. Over 300 arrests and citations were issued during the event, a majority of which were given to individuals who came from outside the Santa Barbara area.

Following the civil unrest that occurred during last year’s Deltopia riots, A.S. held a town hall-style meeting at an I.V. business to discuss solutions to address the issues that led to the unrest. Recent graduate and then-fifth-year anthropology major Josh Plotke spoke at the meeting and encouraged attendees to pursue the formation of a CSD in I.V., stating that a lack of appropriate governmental structure helped cause the unrest.

Further fervor for a stronger local government for I.V. fomented following the events of May 23, 2014, after 22-year-old Santa Barbara City College student Elliot Rodger perpetrated a killing spree on the streets of I.V., taking the lives of six students, as well as his own. A month later, an A.S. a town hall meeting was held at Santa Barbara Hillel to discuss self-governance options for I.V.

At the meeting, Santa Barbara County Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr said I.V.’s primary obstacle to stronger self-governance lies in its lack of an adequate funding structure for a new government, which is itself impeded by I.V.’s small geographical size.

“I think that we are making strides on infrastructure, but the key baseline issue is sustainable funding,” Farr said at the meeting.

Present Day: I.V. Self-Governance, Rekindled; CSD Bill Introduced in State Assembly

The particular self-governance movement to have gained the most traction during this period has been spearheaded by Associated Students External Vice President of Local Affairs (EVPLA) Cameron Schunk and former A.S. president Jonathan Abboud, both of whom are pushing for a CSD-type special legislative district in I.V.

Schunk said he hopes to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to create a viable future for I.V.

“The key aspect of previous movements that I would like to avoid in this one is the ‘us versus them’ mentality,” Schunk said. “Activists felt as if they had to fight against the status quo, and that sort of aggressive tone is off-putting to the powers that be.”

According to Schunk, the practical matter of pushing forward the special legislative district differ from approaches in the past because I.V. is now different demographically and culturally.

“I think this movement is inherently different from previous movements simply because Isla Vista is different,” Schunk said. “We’re looking to solve a lot of the same issues. The difference is in the approach and the eventual solution.”

At follow-up I.V. self-governance town hall meeting sponsored by A.S. in October 2014, attendees at St. Mark’s University Parish were divided into various groups to discuss various possible forms of self-governance. The subjects discussed included the plausibility of turning I.V. into a CSD and thus generating funds for services through a user utilities tax, forming an I.V.-specific Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) composed of appointed or elected members, or attempting to incorporate I.V. into a city again, which would still require the approval of LAFCO as it had in the past.

The October meeting concluded with a vote on the preferred form of self-governance for I.V., with a majority of attendees favoring the CSD option over incorporation or a MAC.

This past Monday, Santa Barbara Assemblymember Das Williams, who presented on I.V. cityhood during October’s town hall, introduced a bill in the California State Assembly seeking to establish I.V. as a CSD by act of the legislature. This bill could minimize the role of LAFCO in the establishment process, as the body has opposed increased government options for I.V. in the past.

According to Williams, further town halls and meetings with I.V. stakeholders regarding the future of self-governance will continue, with the next meeting occurring this Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the conference room of the I.V. Clinic at 970 Embarcadero del Mar. Williams also said that further meetings will allow his bill, AB 3, to reflect the needs of I.V. residents and allow details of the proposed CSD’s structure and function to be further fleshed out.

“People should understand that there is plenty of time for further public input, and for the stakeholder process,” Williams said.

Assemblyman Das Williams, right, introduced AB 3 to the California State Assembly yesterday, which aims to establish Isla Vista as a community service district. Photo courtesy of the Office of Assemblyman Das Williams

Assemblyman Das Williams, right, introduced AB 3 to the California State Assembly yesterday, which aims to establish Isla Vista as a community service district. Photo courtesy of the Office of Assemblyman Das Williams

Reporter Josh Ortiz contributed to this article.