Isla Vista Recreation & Park District voted 3-1 on May 20 to return People’s Park — the last remaining sanctuary space for Isla Vista’s houseless community — back to its recreational capacity by July. Residents who do not meet the deadline to leave the park in early June will be evicted.
Isla Vista Recreation & Park District (IVRPD) aimed to use community stakeholders, such as nonprofit organizations like Good Samaritan, to create a plan that would assist houseless residents prior to them being evicted; however, IVRPD failed to deliver any such program when it voted to clear People’s Park last week.
People’s Park will be the fifth houseless encampment closed by IVRPD since last November.
In light of its decision, IVRPD said in a statement that it plans to assist houseless residents by directing them to “alternative shelters, programs and other support options,” adding that it “remains committed to supporting its partners’ efforts to ensure a safe and dignified transition for all impacted individuals that is led by experts.”
IVRPD said it hopes to reopen People’s Park for “recreational programming” by July 2021.
The looming evictions fall in stride with IVRPD’s previous actions toward houseless encampments. In November 2020, IVRPD closed three encampments — Camino Corto Open Space, Sueño Orchard and Del Sol Vernal Pool Reserve — after the Santa Barbara County fire marshall declared them as fire hazards.
According to the proposed transitional plan, 10-day eviction notices were posted throughout the park from May 21 until May 31 to notify People’s Park’s houseless residents that the sleeping sites in the park will close permanently on June 1.
The transitional plan primarily started in December 2020, with partners including the county of Santa Barbara, county Public Defender Tracy Macuga, county District Attorney Joyce Dudley’s office, the county’s executive office, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the county’s Housing and Community Development Division, the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, third-district Supervisor Joan Hartmann’s office and Good Samaritan shelter.
Helen Roades, an AmeriCorps outreach worker in People’s Park, said that they were not aware of the June 1 date until the week of the May 20 IVRPD meeting.
“I’m very, very concerned with this plan in general,” Roades said during public comment. “Personally, I found out that the June 1 date would be happening this week, which means I haven’t been able to tell any of my clients that they will be kicked out of the park within the next 11 days.”
During this 10-day period, Santa Barbara County’s multidisciplinary team and partners will continue active resourcing with the support of IVRPD, according to the transitional plan. These outreach efforts also involve connecting houseless residents to resources for shelter opportunities and treating mental health and substance abuse.
Starting June 1, some sanitation and trash services will be removed from People’s Park and additional fencing will be installed, according to the transitional plan. This process is expected to finish by the end of June.
“As an independent special district formed to provide recreation and parks services to the Isla Vista community, IVRPD has never been equipped with the budget, staffing or expertise needed to capably manage the many social and environmental impacts of encampments,” Kimberly Kiefer, general manager for IVRPD, said during the staff presentation.
“We are not a human service agency. We have made every effort over the past year to ensure that our parks remain safe and accessible as possible during COVID and have devoted significant resources to realizing safe and dignified solutions to the challenges facing unsheltered individuals.”
Speakers at public comment, however, took issue with IVRPD’s statement of returning to the purpose of running parks and programming.
“I hear a lot of talk about [IVRPD] needing to do its mandate and bring its programming back and have the parks reopen, but I still don’t understand how that’s in contrast to having people sleep in literally one acre of the dozens or hundreds of acres that [IVRPD] manages,” Gina Sawaya, a volunteer for Food Not Bombs Isla Vista, said.
“Folks have already been moved up to three times now, and they’ve complied with all of those moves … and now they’re being punished by being kicked out again,” she continued.
Other speakers noted that IVRPD’s eviction discussion excluded the very community it impacts.
“I feel that we should all be concerned and ashamed that we have not been asking these questions and having this conversation without the presence of the people who will be affected by the decisions that are made here,” fourth-year sociology major Julia Samuel said. “We should all consider that many tent city residents have been here longer than students and longer than many people who are in this room, and they call this place home just as much as we do and have as much [of a] right to be here as anyone else.”
“I think we should really be concerned by the nebulous language of, ‘We’re offering a variety of alternative housing options,’ without specific details as to what that means,” they continued. “To me, that’s a transparent attempt to wash our hands of obligation and wash our hands of the need to care for other people and a way to separate our community from theirs, when in reality, we all live here.”
Esme Quintero-Cubillan, the UCSB Associated Students external vice president for statewide affairs, attended the meeting to voice their dissent.
“This is not the first time that I.V. Recreation and Parks District has relocated this community,” they said. “How many times do we intend on relocating our community members without actually providing a concrete solution?”
“There’s no need to further alienate the houseless community members because they are just that: community members who are houseless,” they continued. “They are not some weird creature for us to perpetuate negative stereotypes about or to insinuate that they are somehow damaging to our community.”
Food Not Bombs has launched a campaign voicing its concerns with IVRPD’s decision. Following the vote, Food Not Bombs published a petition asking IVRPD to “call an emergency meeting for the board to reconsider their vote and call off the eviction at the park.”
In addition, Food Not Bombs read its demands to IVRPD at 4 p.m. on May 26, requesting that houseless residents not be evicted. On June 1, Food Not Bombs plans on stationing its volunteers at People’s Park starting at 11 a.m. and making food and art throughout the day to raise awareness about the evictions.
Correction [June 3, 4:40 p.m.]: This article has been corrected to include that People’s Park will be transitioned in July. A previous version of this article said the transition would happen in June.
Correction [June 3, 4:40 p.m.]: This article has been corrected to say that IVRPD put out a statement. A previous version of this article incorrectly called it a press release.
Correction: [June 3, 4:40 p.m.]: This article has been corrected to say that Kiefer spoke during staff presentation. A previous version of this article said Kiefer spoke during public comment.