Isla Vista’s vibrant political history rooted in efforts for self-governance culminated in last year’s establishment of the Isla Vista Community Services District (CSD), the first government with wide-ranging abilities to provide services to the area.

The Isla Vista Community Services District (CSD) was established by
Measure E last fall, with favorable votes from 87.52 percent of I.V. residents. Jose Arturo Ochoa / Daily Nexus

Creating an Isla Vista Government

I.V. is an “unincorporated area” of Santa Barbara County with a population of over 26,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2015. The I.V. community has witnessed several movements in favor of cityhood, but the state ultimately determined these efforts to be politically and financially infeasible.

In 2003, the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury determined that a CSD would be the best option to represent the unincorporated community.

Assembly Bill 3 (AB-3) was introduced to the state assembly in 2014 and would effectively create a new government in I.V. capable of addressing the needs of the “transient student population” and its “predominantly renter-oriented” community.

The bill also assigns the CSD powers to provide services related to infrastructure, utilities, garbage, police services, parks, recreation, cultural facilities, fire, security and roads. Governor Jerry Brown signed AB-3 into law on Oct. 7, 2015, paving the way for Measure E to be on the ballot in Nov. 2016.

Measure E was the ballot measure to formally create the Isla Vista CSD and was coupled on the ballot with Measure F, a utility user tax meant to fund the district through an 8 percent tax on gas, water, electricity, sewage and garbage disposal for users in the area.

CSD Financial Strains

While most of the country focused on welcoming and protesting a new president on Nov. 9, 2016, I.V. residents also saw the birth of a new government by voting a resounding 87.52 percent “yes” on Measure E.

The measure created the Isla Vista CSD with voters electing Ethan Bertrand, Spencer Brandt, Jay Freeman, Father Jon-Stephen Hedges and Natalie Jordan as directors to lead the newly formed government.

CSD Director Jay Freeman described the district as an “experiment” in providing small-scale government that has the “visceral” ability for students to become involved because of its relationship with UC Santa Barbara.

Measure F, however, received 61.22 percent of the total vote in favor, failing to reach the two-third (66 percent) vote necessary to impose the tax. This effectively left the CSD fundless and with little ability to finance the services it wished to provide.

The failure to pass this tax is worrisome for the future of the district, as AB-3 stipulates that “the district would be dissolved” if a utility user tax is not passed by Jan. 1, 2023.

CSD board chair Ethan Bertrand, however, remains confident in its future.

In an interview with the Nexus Tuesday, Bertrand said there are plans to put the tax on the ballot once more in June or November of next year. He also said the district has received approximately $6,500 in funding from private donations, grants and contributions from Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann’s office.

Establishing Governance

The CSD held its first meeting in March and has been meeting every two weeks since then.

Freeman said the district tries to make its meetings “as interactive as possible” because it works with all aspects of the community, including students, families and businesses.

“It’s kind of the beauty of a small government that we have the ability to kind of work directly with [the public],” he said.

I.V. now has two entities directly governing it: the Recreation & Park District (IVRPD), a small body established in 1972 to regulate parks and other outdoor spaces, and the CSD, a body with broader governing powers.

Bertrand said the administrative framework took a long time to build but said he feels the CSD is now “getting [its] wings” as it begins to provide services.

Goals of the CSD

According to Bertrand, public safety is “the top priority,” as the CSD is working with UCSB to acquire this year’s $200,000 in annual funding for the next seven years. The university pledged this funding during the district’s creation for “mutually agreed-upon projects, programs and services.”

Bertrand said he is in interested in “community-oriented policing services” rather than placing sworn officers on the streets. He said he believes this will solidify the relationship between residents and law enforcement and will contribute to a decline in the amount of sexual assault in I.V., which has increased in recent years.

In addition to that sum, the district is applying for a $20,000 grant with the James S. Bower Foundation, a local philanthropy, and acquired $3,000 from the Fund for Santa Barbara for “community programming.”

According to Freeman, the district plans to use the funds to schedule community meetings at the Community Conference Room in I.V., currently used for CSD meetings, and loan it to organizations interested in gathering there.

Freeman said the room can only be used for noncommercial purposes but said the district will not focus on the content of the meetings that happen there. Managing the room’s scheduling would be the first service the CSD provides since its creation.

The CSD created an internship program in conjunction with UCSB’s political science department in Spring Quarter, employing five interns to-date, but has not yet provided large-scale services to I.V. residents.

The district’s ability to provide services has been bogged down significantly by its lack of funding, as well as its lack of structure, as it has spent several months drafting policies and developing procedures to follow.

Future Hopes

As the CSD continues to develop and find new funding sources for the services it intends to provide, its directors express optimism toward the newborn government’s future.

Bertrand said the CSD was created to make I.V. a safer place and to give the community the “long-deserved voice” within local government.

“This is a huge step for participatory government in I.V.,” Bertrand said.

The I.V. CSD meets every second and fourth Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Community Conference Room on 970 Embarcadero Del Mar behind Naan Stop.

“If you have any interest at all in how society operates, in how all of those services that you rely on everyday [are provided] … even if we’re not the ones providing to you, we are a model by which you can learn how government functions,” Freeman said.

A version of this story appeared on p. 1 of the Thursday, August 24, 2017, edition of the Daily Nexus.