2014 was a difficult year for Isla Vista. Community members and college students experienced a meningitis outbreak and the Deltopia “riots,” along with several publicized drive-by shootings and sexual assaults, according to Darcel Elliott, who, in 2014, worked for former Assemblymember Das Williams.
But none of these events are remembered in the same way as the 2014 Isla Vista Tragedy.
Six people lost their lives on May 23, 2014: George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Weihan “David” Wang, Katherine Breann Cooper, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez and Veronika Weiss.
In the following weeks, Isla Vista residents mourned the death of their community members, grappling with tragedy and loss as the university and community dealt with how to secure a sense of safety for a community sullied by senseless violence.
As Isla Vista struggled through these obstacles, a potential source of solutions and leadership was missing: self-governance. As an unincorporated part of Santa Barbara County, I.V. was only supported by county resources and leadership.
In response, 2014 Associated Students (A.S.) President Jonathan Abboud, along with other friends and colleagues, spent his tenure advocating for a community services district (CSD), a local governing body that would give Isla Vista residents agency and resources from Isla Vista itself. Originally conceived by UCSB graduate Josh Plotke, the CSD had the potential to give Isla Vista the local leadership it was lacking, according to Abboud.
Abboud had previously pushed for a local government, which could institute “common sense” changes for safety in Isla Vista, such as increased street lighting. However, the community response to the idea of a CSD prior to the Deltopia “riots” was dismissive, Abboud said.
“People would be like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool,’ ‘That’s a nice idea,’ or would just be told, ‘Oh well, they tried to make a city in the ‘70s. It’s not possible.’ That would be the line,” Abboud said.
After the Deltopia “riots,” local opinion changed in favor of forming a CSD, Elliot and Abboud said. After the “riots,” the community called for a local governing body that could grant residents agency, prevent future trouble and support the community in its time of need. Despite the change in public opinion, UC Santa Barbara was yet to be on-board with their A.S. president’s goal until the 2014 Isla Vista Tragedy. Following the 2014 Isla Vista Tragedy, the UCSB Foundation Board convened to work with CSD advocates and hold town halls regarding local leadership and agency, Abboud said.
Following these discussions, the UCSB Foundation Board officially recommended that a CSD be formed, and Williams introduced a bill for its creation in the 2016 election. After several instances of consistent opposition with the local agency formation commission, voters ultimately decided that they wanted local agency. Andrea Estrada, UCSB spokesperson, said that the I.V. CSD “may be one of the most transformational changes in Isla Vista” following the 2014 tragedy.
The formation of the CSD was one of several changes the university made after May 23. According to Estrada, the university began initiating several community projects and infrastructural changes to make the town safer.
Changes that had long been advocated for by Isla Vista residents were now becoming a reality, such as fencing along the bluffs in Isla Vista, funding for better lighting, permit-parking programs, restricted parking and access to campus during unsanctioned events like Deltopia, funding for sidewalks in accordance with the Isla Vista master plan and sobriety checkpoints facilitated by the UCSB Police Department.
Abboud said he was glad that the university instituted those changes but also felt that it was wrong that it took a tragedy for the university to make infrastructural changes that the community had been requesting for a long time.
“I felt like it was just wrong that it was all now happening. Because we felt that we had argued this, we had made all these points before,” Abboud said. “So, I’m glad that UCSB did that. And I think it was really important for them to do, but definitely the case had been made for many years and people’s lives had been lost … it was something so tragic that happened [but] I guess it really did drive the action.”
A report released by the Office of the Chancellor one year after the tragedy pointed to dramatically lower crime statistics in Isla Vista. Burglary was down by 78%, weapons offenses down by 50% and vandalism down by 69%. The report attributed the lower crime rates to increased lighting and newly established DUI checkpoints in Isla Vista.
The increase in policing may be one of the most controversial university responses to the 2014 Isla Vista Tragedy. After 2014, the university began pushing the message of keeping Isla Vista local during events like Deltopia and Halloween. Despite asking students to keep the events local, the university invited “more than 100 officers, many from [its] sister campuses … to assist with safety and security in Isla Vista,” according to the chancellor office’s report.
Another response to the tragedy, this time from the county, was augmented festival ordinances that covered “unsanctioned festivals in the spring, thereby increasing fines for misconduct and extending noise ordinances.”
In seven years, Isla Vista has changed drastically. Partying, infrastructure, safety and self-governance all changed the communal and political landscape of the college town.
According to Elliot, Williams was hoping to break a “cycle of neglect” in Isla Vista — where general tragedy was the impetus for temporary change — by helping to create the I.V. CSD.
“No one would pay attention to Isla Vista and no one would give resources there. Things would get really bad, and something tragic would happen. Then, everyone in the greater community is like, ‘Oh, Isla Vista, how can we help you? Let’s put more resources in Isla Vista and help them,’” Elliot said. “And then people get over it [and] stop caring again. Resources dwindle down. Same thing happens, it just keeps happening over and over again.”
“[Williams] saw Community Services District as a way to stop the cycle of neglect by putting the power in the residents, instead of having them depend on the fact that people outside of Isla Vista might care about them,” Elliot continued.
According to Abboud, the I.V. CSD has fulfilled its intended purpose and broken the cycle.
“I think we really did change the cycle of neglect. I think it is over,” Abboud said. “That past is over. That past terrible status quo for Isla Vista is gone.”