The Santa Barbara County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) voted Thursday to oppose Assembly Bill 3, Assemblymember Das Williams’ initiative for Isla Vista self-governance through a Community Services District (CSD), unless amended to include the commission in the CSD formation process.
LAFCO met in the in the Board of Supervisors room in Santa Maria, where it voted to oppose AB 3 five-to-two. The bill’s current language circumvents the LAFCO process by stating the CSD and its funding mechanism, a Utility Users Tax (UUT), will be ratified by a vote of its potential residents.
Third District Supervisor and LAFCO Vice Chair Doreen Farr and public comment participants spoke in favor of AB 3, while other commissioners said it does not sufficiently clarify the role of UC Santa Barbara, the CSD’s boundaries and the district’s financial feasibility, especially for funding special approval elections.
Long term I.V. resident and UCSB Economics Lecturer Lanney Ebenstein said he has lived in I.V. since 1961 and, despite the costs, believes a CSD is the “best opportunity” for I.V. he has seen in his time in the community.
“Isla Vista has unique issues — both as board compensation and funding — that make state legislation necessary,” Ebenstein said. “There is no question that it would be an expense to the county, but, in the long run, I believe it is very much to the County of Santa Barbara’s financial benefit to see that there is an Isla Vista Community Services District.”
Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) Associate Student Government Senator and I.V. resident Ethan Bertrand said SBCC A.S. unanimously voted to support AB 3, and he is in favor of a parking district to better manage parking in the streets of I.V. and monitor I.V. visitors.
“A parking district as included in AB 3 would allow more control for who can park in Isla Vista, which would help regulate out-of-towners and just bring more order to our streets,” Bertrand said.
Commissioner Roger Aceves said a parking district can be established through Santa Barbara County and does not require AB 3.
“This thing about the parking district — the county can do that,” Aceves said.
SBCC trustee and UCSB alumnus Jonathan Abboud said he is not unwilling to form a CSD through LAFCO, but feels some members of the board would oppose the bill regardless of whether it went through the LAFCO process or not.
“I just personally get the feeling that LAFCO is going to oppose AB 3 CSD whether we include LAFCO in the process or not,” Abboud said. “I’m getting the feeling from comments that your [LAFCO’s] board members have already said in public that this will not pass, regardless, so including you in the process almost seems like a moot point, because to include you would be to kill the bill at a later date.”
Abboud said LAFCO and Isla Vista Self Governance Initiative should work together to focus on the main problem of addressing I.V.’s community needs instead of opposing each other’s ideas.
“Just take a step back and look at [what] the problem we are really trying to solve is, which is the safety and welfare of residents in Isla Vista,” Abboud said. “We could just negotiate and work in good faith together without any preconceived notion of what should happen in Isla Vista and focus on what the residents think should happen … instead of coming up with your own idea of blocking the ideas of people who have been working on it for years.”
Second-year political science major Louis Mariano said he does not see a purpose in including LAFCO, because the commission consistently opposes the bill.
“Last Tuesday, we did discuss including LAFCO in the process, but if you oppose the bill, why would we want to bring you into the discussion furtherly?” Mariano said. “We do want to bring you in on the implementation of the CSD, but if you really oppose it, there’s really no point because you’re not going to want the CSD to succeed.”
Second-year history of public policy major Izeah Garcia said the bill should not face opposition because it is representative of the needs of many I.V. residents.
“It’s illogical to oppose or question this movement, because it’s a grassroots movement, and there has been information gathered across the board with regards to Latino families, students and even individuals who own houses in Isla Vista,” Garcia said. “We’ve been working for this for many hours and many weeks and this is a collective effort.”
I.V. Recreation & Park District (IVRPD) Board Member Jacob Lebell said I.V needs representatives that would work with Santa Barbara County, UCSB and law enforcement to solve larger issues on behalf of the community.
“Other entities such as the county, UCSB and the police need to have representatives of our community that they can talk to, negotiate and partner with to really address the large number of problems that our community is facing,” Lebell said.
Lebell said while he believes LAFCO members can potentially contribute to the CSD plan, their uncompromising attitude discourages him from wanting to work with them.
“I do understand your concerns about AB 3 circumventing the LAFCO process,” Lebell said. “I think you all have value to add to it, but I would just like to make you aware that a lot of my fellow residents are quite frankly afraid of you.”
I.V. business owner, UCSB alumnus and community organizer Jay Freeman said the lack of sales tax and a transient occupancy tax in AB 3 is concerning for business owners, and the Utility Users Tax is the only tax item left in the bill.
“The Isla Vista Downtown Business Association has been meeting recently, and one of the things that has come up there is that Utility Users Tax is the only tax that is left in the bill,” Freeman said. “The sales tax and the transient occupancy tax has been removed, and that’s a concern amongst business owners because it affects businesses.”
Freeman said he supports I.V. self-governance but does not think AB 3 will be a sufficient foundation without intervention from LAFCO.
“The boundaries for the university are confusing,” Freeman said. “This is one of the many reasons why I have continued to believe that LAFCO should be involved.”
LAFCO Vice-chair Craig Geyer said amendments to AB 3 address issues from LAFCO’s Feb. 19 letter of concern, such as board makeup and district boundaries, but the ad hoc committee on the bill still wants to see an amendment stating the CSD formation will go through LAFCO.
“I think, at the end of the day, the consensus from the ad hoc committee was basically we should maintain an opposed position unless the motion comes back through local LAFCO,” Geyer said.
Commissioner Roger Welt said he sees progress in the amendments to AB 3 thus far and hopes Williams’ office will “keep up the good work,” but is not ready to support the bill without further clarification on the role of UCSB and funding for proposed elections.
“You are starting to fill in the blanks,” Welt said. “I think there’s a couple things that are still hanging out there that give me reason to wait on this a little bit further.”
Commissioner Janet Wolf also said AB 3 was making progress in clarifying the questions posed in the letter.
“In our letter of opposition, we did get the chance to specify what some of our issues were,” Welt said. “This bill is moving forward — a lot of those questions are being answered, such as the makeup of the board and the boundaries”
Commissioner Steve Lavagnino said he feels Santa Barbara County provides adequate services to I.V making AB 3 unnecessary and insulting.
“I guess we take it a little personally — at least I do — on the Board of Supervisors when people say they are not getting the services they need in an unincorporated area,” Lavagino said. “The county’s really stepping up and providing a level of service that you might not see in a lot of other areas.”
Welt said the lack of information on the proposed CSD’s financial feasibility limits the commission’s support of AB 3.
“I really believe in the power of that feasibility study,” Welt said. “Finance is really important here, and the feasibility study might flush that out.”
Aceves said he agrees with Lavagino that supporters of AB 3 take county services for granted.
“I agree with Commissioner Lavagino,” Aceves said. “I would take offense to that, because a lot of money spent is providing the necessary services, but now we’re asking to add additional taxes.”
But Farr said I.V. needs more services than the county can provide, and a CSD with a UUT would create the needed funding.
“In looking at all the things the CSD wants to do, I could go down every one of them and tell you how we have tried and continue to try to find the money to support so many of these,” Farr said. “Without a dedicated source of funding for Isla Vista, the county is not going to be able to keep up with what it needs”
Lavagino said LAFCO should not support AB 3 until a financial feasibility study is complete.
“I don’t think any of us in any of our jurisdictions will move forward on anything without finding out first if it makes financial sense,” Lavagino said. “The only way we can do that is with a feasibility study.”
Lavagino said he fears student proponents of AB 3 are unrealistic in their support of the bill.
“I feel like these young people are well-intentioned and maybe have been sold something they feel is a panacea,” Lavagino said. “If this thing goes down the road … my fear is, down that road, you’re going to be looking five years after the CSD is there and saying ‘Wow I don’t see a whole heck of a lot that’s different.’”
According to Aceves, only a city or county can impose a Utility Users Tax, meaning a CSD imposing a UUT in I.V. would require additional legislation.
“How can this bill authorize a special district to it, because that is, in my mind, concerning, because every special district in the county would want to take advantage of that if they could.”
Aceves said LAFCO is not impeding the CSD formation process as many AB 3 supporters suggested, but rather doing their job.
“We are legislatively required to follow the law,” Aceves said. “It’s what we have to do as a Local Agency Formation Commission for the orderly development of special districts or cities, and this one doesn’t even want to talk to us.”
Aceves said he was concerned AB 3 allows 10 years for I.V. residents to approve a UUT by a two-thirds vote.
“What are these board members going to do for ten years with no money?” Aceves said.
Moorhouse also said he was concerned about the bill’s establishment of a 10-year period for approval of the tax.
“We could actually have an election every year,” Moorhouse said. “Tens upon tens of thousands of dollars could be spent.”
Commissioner Bob Orach said he thinks the proposed CSD should better incorporate IVRPD.
“It would seem to me that the CSD having that power and authority — those local officials that are concerned about their parks and recreation — why wouldn’t they be included?” Orach said.
Commissioner Jeff Moorhouse said AB 3 should follow the LAFCO process in order to form a long-term solution for I.V., and it is important to include larger I.V. entities, such as UCSB, in the self-governance process.
“We’re trying to do this the right way and do the process the way it should be done, so when change is made, it’s sustainable and will last for generations,” Moorhouse said. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen until you get some of the major players participating. UCSB has been one of the entities that has helped create this disadvantaged community. We need to get UCSB to the table.”
Moorhouse said AB 3 takes away local power by allowing the state legislature to mandate county-level elections.
“In the language that is currently proposed, it states that the County of Santa Barbara is going to put it on the ballot,” Moorhouse said. “We are being told by the state legislature that we are going to expend thousands upon thousands of dollars for an election.”
Geyer said Williams should amend AB 3 to include LAFCO in the CSD establishment process.
“What I support is opposing this bill until it’s amended to include the formation of the proposed district through the local LAFCO,” Geyer said. “Most of the questions — district boundary, financial feasibility — that would all be vetted through our normal LAFCO process”
Farr said LAFCO should have used more positive language in its initial stance on the bill.
“This is an opportunity to try to do something, finally, for Isla Vista,” Farr said. “If LAFCO initially had taken a position of ‘support if amended,’ as opposed to ‘opposed unless amended,’ even though they seem to be two sides of the same coin, I think the import is much different.”
Fox also said LAFCO should take a more supportive stance of AB 3 while voicing concerns about potential issues.
“We need to take ‘unless amended’ out of there for some more positive words that say ‘we’re here to help you as an organization of LAFCOs,” Fox said.
Wolf also said LAFCO should help the I.V. self-governance movement and motioned that the commission support AB 3 if amended.
“I think we should take an affirmative stance,” Wolf said. “I think we should support this bill and make recommendations for amendments and/or clarifications.”
Aceves said LAFCO should not support the bill until members are satisfied with its language and made a substitute motion to oppose the bill unless amended to include LAFCO in the CSD formation.
“The amendment will include specifics,” Aceves said. “One: that they go through LAFCO, and two: that they have a feasibility study.”
Aceves’ motion passed in a five-to-two vote, with only Farr and Wolf voting against it.