Yep, I’m back! Your favorite (or maybe least favorite) right-wing rabble-rouser has returned, for one night only, to share with you a very important message about the future of Isla Vista. This will be my last Nexus piece, and I hope it is a worthy conclusion to my saga of trolling and triggering.
By now, if you attend UCSB or live in Isla Vista, you’ve probably heard about the campaign for self-governance in Isla Vista. The three-year-old movement aims to turn Isla Vista (currently an unincorporated area within Santa Barbara County) into a Community Service District, or CSD. This Nov. 8, Isla Vista residents will go to the polls and vote on Measures E and F, which, if approved, will complete the self-governance process and establish a CSD in Isla Vista.
Self-governance advocates have repeatedly told Isla Vista residents that all this is historic and inspiring, and if you’re not wetting your pants with enthusiasm at the thought of Isla Vista being made into a CSD, there’s probably something wrong with you. But before giving these measures the rubber stamp, Isla Vista voters should see past the rhetoric and take a look at what they will actually do.
Isla Vista self-governance is not, and never was, a grassroots movement. Instead, it is a movement by and for the interests of the local political elites. Isla Vista self-governance will not increase local autonomy. Instead, it will create new channels by which outside entities can exert control over the community.
Self-governance advocates will tell you that the new CSD, as outlined in Measure E, will be governed by a seven person board of directors. What they gloss over is the fact that this board of directors, by its very design, will not represent the student majority population of Isla Vista.
The first problem: of the seven directors, two are not even elected by Isla Vista residents. Instead, these two seats are appointed — one by the Chancellor of UCSB, and one by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. While two seats might not sound like a lot, this will give these unelected outside special interests plenty of room for playing politics with the needs of Isla Vista residents.
The second problem: of the remaining five seats, four of these will be elected to four-year terms. Only one will be elected to a two-year term. (The only exception will be in the upcoming Nov. 8 election, in which two of the four-year seats will be replaced with two-year interim seats.) This might not be a problem in most communities but it will be in a college town like Isla Vista. Most students do not even attend UCSB, let alone live in Isla Vista, for four complete calendar years. Few UCSB students will want to remain in Isla Vista after having graduated, simply to fill a political office — and the few that would do so would be members of the small student political class, divorced from the interests of ordinary students.
This will all but ensure that, of the seven seats on the board of directors, only one (if that) will be consistently occupied by a regular student. Is this what true “self-governance” is supposed to look like? No community with an ounce of dignity would accept these conditions for self-governance.
CSD advocates also gloss over the issue of funding. Measure F will institute a Utility Users Tax, which will amount to about $5 or $10 a month for each resident of Isla Vista. CSD advocates might feel comfortable dismissing this cost as the equivalent of “half a Freebirds burrito every month.” But over the course of a college career, this cost could add up to several hundred dollars. And it will be a regressive tax, like a sales tax, disproportionately affecting the poor. In an age of skyrocketing student expenses, do the students living in Isla Vista really need another financial albatross around their necks?
The greatest cost of all, however, may be hidden in the CSD revenue not gained through taxation. UCSB has pledged $200,000 to the new CSD each year, for the next seven years (almost $1.5 million dollars total). And you can bet that, with this kind of price tag, UCSB will demand a significant return on its money, in the form of increased control over the Isla Vista community.
Does this sound far-fetched? Only a year ago, UCSB spent more than $156 million buying Tropicana Apartments from its private ownership, one of the biggest property transfers in the area in recent memory, which made the University the largest landowner in Isla Vista. According to a press release by UCSB, this was done to “strengthen the connections between the campus and Isla Vista” and to demonstrate the University’s “ongoing efforts to play a larger role in student life in Isla Vista.” And over the last two years, we have seen massive police crackdowns on Halloween and Deltopia, orchestrated in part by the University.
Well, forgive me if I don’t want the University to “play a larger role in student life in Isla Vista.” I already spent one year in the dorms, where the University cracks down hard on substance use and relentlessly brainwashes students with leftist propaganda posters. Extending this to Isla Vista would be the worst thing possible for the freedom and autonomy of students — and the CSD plan gives UCSB the means to do just that.
Isla Vista is more than just a wacky college town. It is a uniquely free-spirited community like perhaps no other in the state of California, and it is a place where daily life is based around the principles of freedom, with all the costs and benefits that entail. UCSB might see its hard-partying students as wayward children in need of corralling (and maybe also some mandatory sensitivity training), but college students are young adults, who made a conscious choice to attend UCSB and live in close proximity to Isla Vista, and you deserve to be treated as such.
Unfortunately, the current plan for Isla Vista self-governance allows for the creation of a quasi-totalitarian University-dominated bureaucracy which will further infantilize students.
This may be the greatest price of the so-called self-governance movement: the end of Isla Vista as we know it and as generations of students have known it.
The abovementioned analogy to a Freebirds burrito is perhaps more telling than it was intended to be. A Freebirds burrito is a delicious product of free market competition. No one is forcing you to eat a Freebirds burrito, and if you don’t like it you can choose to eat elsewhere. But a CSD will be a government monopoly. You will be forced to pay into it each month, and if you don’t like it, tough.
So, unlike a Freebirds burrito, the CSD will have no direct incentive to appeal to its customers. And, unlike a Freebirds burrito, if the ingredients are a little undercooked or stale, you can’t complain to the manager.
So, what are the ingredients of this whopping burrito that self-governance advocates are planning to force-feed to the Isla Vista public?
They are pretty unimpressive. Measure E promises eight initial services: a tenant mediation program, the operation of a parking district, the creation of a police cadet program, the operation of an Isla Vista Community Center, funding of a Municipal Advisory Council and Area Planning Commission, infrastructure repair and graffiti abatement.
Most of these services provide no meaningful benefit to the Isla Vista community. (When was the last time you were walking down Del Playa on a Friday night, and you thought to yourself, “Man, this place sucks, we don’t even have a Community Center”? And I was unaware that graffiti was a major issue in Isla Vista, unless you count the ever-so-traumatizing “Trump 2016” chalking that appeared on campus last year.)
More lighting might be nice, but it’s hardly the “historic” advancement that CSD advocates have been touting. Other promised services – such as the parking district – might genuinely be an asset to Isla Vista, but most of these could be addressed in other ways beside the creation of a CSD.
Finally, there is a very serious reason to be suspicious of the self-governance movement: Over the past two years, it has sold its rhetoric to UCSB in a fundamentally dishonest and manipulative way. I have watched this process unfold over the last two years, and I can say with all honesty that the rhetoric used by the CSD advocates beggars belief.
Why is the CSD being proposed now, you might ask, and not 10 or 20 or 50 years ago? Isla Vista survived as a community for over half a century with only limited self-governance, or none at all. So why did self-governance suddenly become an issue around 2014?
The answer lies in the tragedy of May 23, 2014, and the way in which its memory has been mercilessly and shamelessly exploited by the self-governance movement.
It all begins with Jonathan Abboud, the president of Associated Students at UCSB for 2013-2014. In the summer of 2013, Abboud and a small group of political insiders decided that self-governance was the right path forward for Isla Vista. However, they had a problem: nobody beside them really cared. As Abboud said, “there probably wasn’t the political will to support this push forward” at the time.
Their plan might never have left the cutting room floor … if not for the tragic events of the following year — a near-fatal meningitis outbreak, several brutal sexual assaults, stabbings, a riot on Deltopia and the mass shooting on May 23 — which gave these student politicians all the “political will” they needed to step into the role of saviors and present the self-governance plan as a panacea to the problems afflicting Isla Vista.
In the last days of the 2013-2014 school year, as most students were still reeling from these tragedies, self-governance advocates wasted no time in kicking their political machine into gear and pushing their plan. (Or, in Abboud’s slightly more euphemistic wording, these events “created an incredible sense of unity and determination across all facets of Isla Vista” — albeit a sense of unity and determination that Abboud and his allies did everything they could to stoke and shape to their advantage.)
As I detailed in a piece for The Bottom Line last year, the self-governance movement has repeatedly exploited the rhetoric of “tragedy” to promote Isla Vista self-governance. They always stop just short of making the (obviously ludicrous) claim that self-governance will do anything to solve these problems, but at every turn, they subtly invoke the memory of the 2014 tragedies as a primary justification for pushing self-governance forward.
In the summer of 2014, County Supervisor Doreen Farr said, bizarrely, that “I think that it’s terrible it’s taken these tragic events of this year and Deltopia, but there’s been so much renewed energy and focus now on Isla Vista that it is all positive.” (It’s good to know that she could consider the aftermath of a series of tragedies “all positive” if they allowed her to advance her political agenda.)
This link is even written into AB 3, the self-governance bill which passed the California state legislature last year, which explicitly cites the events of 2013-2014 as having “brought focus to the unique needs of Isla Vista that can only be addressed by direct, local governance.”
Neither AB 3 nor any advocate of self-governance have ever provided any explanation as to how self-governance could have solved any of these problems, or why these issues “can only be addressed by direct, local governance.” Crime happens in every community, no matter how well-governed or policed. More effective local governance might have stopped the Deltopia riot from happening, but this is a tenuous link at best.
Certainly there is no reason to believe that a local government could have done anything to prevent the events of May 23. Mass shootings have happened in all sorts of communities across America, including those with very effective local governments. Contrary to what some will have you believe, a government is not God — nor should it aspire to be.
The fact that self-governance advocates have used the Isla Vista community’s grief to their political advantage is downright shameful. You should be deeply suspicious of anyone making such an emotional argument and trying to persuade you from a place of grief rather than a place of logic and reason. The future of the Isla Vista community is too important to allow politicians to make manipulative emotional appeals.
In the coming weeks, we should not forget the dishonest way in which self-governance was sold to the voters. No house built on a foundation of lies can stand for long.
Jonathan Abboud is a natural politician. Having graduated UCSB in 2014, he has spent the last two-and-a-half years living in the Isla Vista area and pushing for self-governance; he now bills himself as a “community organizer” and is apparently important enough to warrant a verification check mark next to his name on Facebook. He has a long history of grandiose political planning (including the failed Student Union Revitalization Fund of 2014, which I suggest you look up, as it bears some disturbing parallels to the current self-governance plan).
For him, the creation of a Community Service District will be the ultimate resume builder. If he can present himself to the public as the brilliant young man who successfully reformed the political system of an entire college community while still in his early 20s, he will likely be rewarded with a long and illustrious political career in the California Democratic Party. But it is the students in Isla Vista who will have to live with the long-term consequences of his plan for generations to come.
This election season, self-governance advocates and Santa Barbara Democratic Party establishment (which can expect to dominate the new board of directors) will bombard Isla Vista voters with a one-sided propaganda campaign designed to get them to vote yes on Measures E and F. Voters will hear no counterpoint, but they deserve one, and this is what I have attempted to provide here. I hope that it inspires some of you to think about this issue in a new way.
Isla Vista is no longer my business. I graduated last June and no longer live in the area. But the Isla Vista community still means a lot to me, as I know it does to many of you. I do not want to be one of the last generation of UCSB students to enjoy the unique culture of the town in its entirety before its spirit is quashed by self-interested local politicians and a University that has proven itself to have little regard for the rights of its students.
I spent four years at UCSB doing my best to challenge political norms on campus. Allow me to do so one last time. To those of you still attending UCSB and living in Isla Vista: think before you vote. Get all the facts. Do not allow yourself to be swayed by appeals to emotion. Once you approve something like self-governance, there is no going back. And if you vote yes on Measures E and F and usher in a new age of Isla Vista self-governance, you might one day find that the previous status quo had been more favorable to your interests than you were led to believe.
Jason Garshfield is a UCSB alumnus and wants you to think before voting this November.