After being shut down for 21 months in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Isla Vista Community Center is now officially open for local residents to take advantage of the various programs in the building, or to reserve the space for their own needs.
Beginning March 2020, the Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD) paused all operations at the Isla Vista Community Center — located on 976 Embarcadero Del Mar — in response to the spread of COVID-19 and orders from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. As time went on and the Isla Vista Community Center remained closed for operation, IVCSD’s lease on the property ended and the county resumed ownership of the building.
“Since the County took ownership of the building, they have invested grant funding to retrofit and repair the Center to make it suitable for use as a community facility. In November, improvements to the outdoor patio and exterior lighting and signage were funded by Federal Community Development Block Grant dollars, matched by IVCSD general funds,” IVCSD Board President Spencer Brandt said in a statement to the Nexus.
As the number of houseless people living in Isla Vista increased over the course of the pandemic, both IVCSD and the county temporarily transformed the Isla Vista Community Center into a site that provided pallet shelters for housing. For seven months, the community center and the area around it functioned as a housing site for community members experiencing houselessness.
By July 2021, the pallet shelter project ended, and the pallet homes were moved out of the Isla Vista Community Center, allowing the IVCSD to begin resuming operations on-site again.
In December 2021, IVCSD negotiated a yearlong lease of the Isla Vista Community Center and is currently negotiating with the county for a longer-term lease agreement.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time Isla Vista lost its community center.
The Nexus reported in 2016 that “the town lost its [original] community center in the 1970s when the Santa Barbara Clinic building, a former local gathering space, was sold. A County Redevelopment Agency planned to build a new space soon after, but the agency was later dissolved entirely in 2012 due to financial setbacks.”
For nearly 50 years, Isla Vista was the only town in Santa Barbara County without a community center. Prior to the IVCSD’s creation, the county would have needed to initiate the project, as Isla Vista is an unincorporated area of the county and not a city. To solve this issue, Santa Barbara County purchased the old church building to establish a community center at 976 Embarcadero Del Mar in 2012.
Soon after, in 2016, local residents voted in favor of creating the IVCSD; in 2018, local residents voted in favor of Measure R-2018 which allowed IVCSD to take over operations of the Isla Vista Community Center via a 8% utility tax of Isla Vistans that provided their fledgling organization with a revenue source.
In February 2020, IVCSD held an official grand opening for the community center and planned for the date of the opening to coincide with the anniversary of when the Isla Vista Bank of America burned down twice on Feb. 25, 1970.
“We’re here celebrating how far we’ve come because it wasn’t that long ago, this building was about to fall over,” Brandt said to the Nexus in an article about the community center’s soft opening in 2019.
Now that IVCSD has taken the community center back again, the staff hired Myah Mashhadialireza in early January for a new position, entitled the “Isla Vista Community Spaces Program Manager,” that oversees management of the Isla Vista Community Center and Community Room.
According to an IVCSD press release, Mashhadialireza “will operate the building’s programs on a day-to-day basis, work with potential users and develop programming for the entire community to benefit from.”
“Isla Vista is such a vibrant community; it deserves an inclusive, safe space to amplify the programs and interests of the people who call it home,” Mashhadialireza said in the press release. “I am truly looking forward to managing an accessible and empowering space for the community to come together for quality events and weekly activities.”
With Mashhadialireza’s help, IVCSD plans to bring back some of its previously popular programming, such as Zumba and salsa classes, and provide a space for UC Santa Barbara students to tutor kids from Isla Vista Elementary School as well. IVCSD also gathered opinions from the community regarding the programming they would like to see at the Isla Vista Community Center.
Those wishing to reserve the space for their own needs may do so on IVCSD’s website.
A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the Jan. 27, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Correction [2/5/2022 4:57 p.m.]: This article has been corrected to say that the Isla Vista Community Center exists on the site of an old church building. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Isla Vista Community Center exists on the site of the old Bank of America.