The Isla Vista Self Governance Initiative held a public meeting Tuesday in the Isla Vista Clinic building to discuss the formation of a tenant mediation program in the proposed Community Services District (CSD).
Tuesday’s meeting was the fourth of 11 meetings the Initiate organized for community members to discuss the framework and the specific services that may be offered in a CSD. The meeting focused on whether or not the CSD should establish a tenant mediation program and, if it is established, what its specific design and functions should be. I.V. residents will vote in November of 2016 on whether or not to approve the formation of a CSD.
According to Community Organizer from Assemblymember Das Williams’ office Darcel Elliott, a tenant mediation program would be the simplest service to establish because it would not directly conflict with any state’s codes for CSDs.
City of Santa Barbara Rental Housing Mediation Program representative Andrea Bifano, who sits on the Rental Housing Mediation Task Force for the potential CSD, describes mediation as a process that “empowers” disputing parties to reach a resolution.
“A neutral third party helps facilitate communication by clarifying both the views and positions and helping the parties come up with their own solutions,” Vivano said. “Often times, people are in a situation or relationship that they need to continue, and if they don’t work out their dispute it could escalate and lead to conviction, which is something we would like to prevent.”
Elliott said that the UCSB Community Housing Office is currently the only tenant mediation service for students living in I.V., and it is not available to non-student UCSB resident of I.V., such as Santa Barbara City College students.
“They provide tenant mediation for all students, faculty and staff of UCSB. They handle 500 cases a year, 85 percent of those are people that reside in Isla Vista,” Elliott said. “A lot of SBCC students that live in I.V., a lot of non-student renters that live in I.V., they don’t have any sort of tenant mediation offered to them … This is why this service became one of our top priorities.”
Isla Vista Tenants Union (IVTU) and fourth-year English and sociology double-major Clara Perez said IVTU advocates for tenants and empowers them to fight for their rights but does not provide mediation.
“We have recently worked to fight with eviction cases,” Perez said. “We work to bring awareness to the community about how families and students are being treated by their landlords.”
Isla Vista Downtown Business Association Vice President Jay Freeman said a CSD might not provide the power needed to run an effective tenant mediation program.
“Sadly, I think we’re kind of hamster-wheeling on some of these issues, because the form of government that we’ve been able to come up with and been able to construct doesn’t allow us to have the kinds of land use power that will allow us to have the kind of teeth that would actually allow us to force landlords to do anything,” Freeman said. “We need a city or a county to actually step in and do something.”
Perez said IVTU could “be those teeth” by advocating for tenants if landlords do not cooperate.
“We can’t necessarily get involved as far as the mediation goes, but if landlords are refusing to come to mediation tables, we want to know,” Perez said. “We want to know if anyone’s rights are being neglected so that we can have their back and put them on blast.”
A version of this story appeared on page 3 of the Thursday, November 19, 2015 print edition of the Daily Nexus.