The Daily Nexus endorses Scott Ball and Brendan Hutchinson for two-year terms on the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District.
The Isla Vista Recreation & Park District (IVRPD) oversees public spaces and recreational programming in Isla Vista.
Though contenders Heidi Diaz and Thea Neushul did not receive the Nexus endorsement for the two open seats based on their lack of qualification for the position, the Nexus retains concerns about all four candidates, including Ball and Hutchinson.
Hutchinson is an Isla Vista resident who participates in activism with Eco Vista, a grassroots organization working to create an equitable, sustainable community through art and regenerative agroecology — including public food forests, gardens and native restoration — an experience he believes would aid him if elected.
“[Eco Vista has] no vested interest other than just compassion for their community and compassion for the environment. So, I think I would just try to echo the voices that are really underrepresented and underheard, that’s really trying to protect what’s so essential about these parks and about the general nature and community out here,” he said.
Hutchinson said he hopes to channel this understanding of indigeneity and sustainability within IVRPD by increasing Indigenous and Native presence in community murals and artwork, and prioritizing the placement of native plants in the parks and gardens.
Another aspect of Hutchinson’s candidate platform is working toward treating unhoused people living in I.V.’s parks with compassion, empathy and respect on a sociopolitical level.
“I would like to open a larger discussion about what it means to be unhoused in Isla Vista and the history that these parks have for meeting the needs of that community,” Hutchinson said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people in Isla Vista and it’s a unique place where people are genuinely sympathetic to unhoused people and I don’t think that what local politicians or police or organizations do is always actually representing the interests of the people in Isla Vista.”
Hutchinson critiqued the work of previous IVRPD board members in relation to I.V.’s houseless community and said that he would work to establish a precedent of responsibility and empathy for those experiencing houselessness. In 2021, IVRPD was involved with the removal of houseless persons from I.V. parks after the pandemic — a decision that was contested by some and lauded by others.
“They have a responsibility to recognize that people use parks in different ways,” Hutchinson said. “Some people use them for recreation, some people use them for rest and some people use them for the only possible shelter that they can find at that moment. So, I think they’re also responsible for recognizing a diversity of needs.”
In accordance with his aforementioned emphasis on uplifting marginalized voices, Hutchinson also suggested more inclusive IVRPD programming, which could feature LGBTQIA+-specific events, among others.
Ball is a UC Santa Barbara undergraduate alumnus, UC Los Angeles law school graduate and real estate lawyer, and is seeking to continue ongoing major park renovations in Isla Vista.
“With the renovations of Pardall Gardens and Children’s Park and then Greek Park to come … I want to make sure that the community is heard throughout that process and that the renovations are done in a way that they can best benefit our community and the environment and also be minimally wasteful,” Ball said.
Ball said his background in land management and land use would aid with these endeavors and with general oversight of the parks, and is approaching management with sustainability in mind.
“I want to decrease the impact of managing a parks district and decrease our footprint. The parks district is already using all organic fertilizers, and there’s a number of electric vehicles, but I think that there’s definitely room to improve from a sustainability perspective,” he said.
In the realm of park management, Ball noted room for improvement in IVRPD’s distribution of physical work, citing complaints of volunteers executing work meant for specialized workers, such as construction and irrigation.
“Just based on conversations I’ve had, I think there’s room for improvement in how volunteers are deployed, and trying to find the best kind of synchronicity between, between getting volunteers involved and [utilizing] trained people,” Ball said.
Ball also proposed introducing a collective mural space for residents to create art, and mentioned his self-taught background in software engineering that could potentially aid in improving the IVRPD website.
The Nexus acknowledges that both candidates could bring unique, fresh perspectives to the board if elected — Hutchinson through his focus on social activism and Ball through his support of sustainable practices. However, the two candidates share the lackluster portfolios of their unendorsed companions in many ways.
All four candidates expressed a lack of familiarity with IVRPD’s main functions — maintaining the parks and hosting recreational activities — and little understanding of how the board functions.
When asked about his direct experience with IVRPD, Hutchinson said he has “talked to some people involved,” and has been “reading up on it a little bit,” which constitutes the extent of his knowledge about the entity.
Ball’s inexperience is demonstrated through his lack of original ideas and vague platform, wherein he has no set goals beyond maintaining what already exists.
“I don’t have a broad sweeping agenda of specific projects; I’m more looking at it as just keeping the parks great spaces,” Ball said.
Neushul, a fifth-year environmental studies major, is a long-term I.V. resident and musician, and has goals of preserving community spaces in I.V. and addressing community concerns.
“I want to provide a safe place for the community to go that’s easy to access and easy to use,” Neushul said. “I already had some people reach out to me about wanting a bench in one of the parks. I think people just want to be able to feel connected to the community but also have a voice.”As a long-term I.V. resident and UCSB student, Neushul has the potential to represent both demographics and their needs as an IVRPD director but presented no proposals or ideas to support both communities.
Neushul also failed to demonstrate any knowledge or interest in environmental management and sustainability, despite mentioning thinking that “parks was a really applicable thing to [her] major.”
Her inexperience is particularly glaring with the want for community spaces and recreational programming — including support of murals and events she voiced — but inability to articulate how those spaces would be hosted, and the internal functions that would allow her to do so.
Neushul said “a lot of people living in I.V. don’t really even understand what IVRPD is or what they’re supposed to be doing,” but generally failed to demonstrate that knowledge herself.
With a total lack of platform points in her campaign, and no focus on UCSB students or permanent I.V. residents — demographics she directly represents — the Nexus believes Neushul does not inspire confidence as an IVRPD director.
Diaz, who cited her qualifications for the position as coordinating community organization in I.V., espoused her main priority if elected as building community within the space.
While she emphasized the importance of “providing a public space for people to reconnect with each other and reconnect with our local nature,” like Neushul, she failed to detail any specific platform points, initiatives or qualifications for the position. When asked to critique IVRPD’s current slate of recreational programming, Diaz said, “I’ve been very focused on myself.”
“Maybe I haven’t been as publicly involved recently,” she continued. “I have seen different events happening and going on. I’ve heard about them, and [been] seeing flyers, for example.”
Her response when asked to analyze IVRPD’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was similarly lackluster.
“I guess I have to freely open up at this point in time, I’m very, I don’t know, I guess I could say naive about this. I’m not familiar,” she said.
Ultimately, she did not provide any concrete suggestions for improvement within the organization, original ideas for recreational planning, park management and incorporating student and resident perspectives, and has not spoken to I.V. residents about their wishes for IVRPD in a comprehensive capacity.
While the Nexus hopes that if elected, Hutchinson and Ball will learn more about the internal and external functions of the IVRPD — what knowledge they did demonstrate about the position was superior to both Neushul and Diaz.
However, the two endorsed candidates left much to be desired on the topic of marginalized communities within the context of IVRPD. Ball failed to address the topic nearly completely, while Hutchinson expressed his desire to advocate for the unhoused community several times despite failing to provide actionable goals on the issues of inequality he discussed.
Ball did not give any mention of addressing houseless people’s needs, other than when asked about IVRPD’s response to houselessness in the pandemic to which he said they were “doing the best they could.”
“They’re not folks who are trained to administer those services,” Ball said. “I would have navigated it heart and mind forward and tried to figure out the best way to get people support and spaces and services.”
Ball said “students are incredibly important to represent” and “are the ones who have the ability to most use the parks,” but neglected to provide any successful method of outreach or inclusivity regarding the student population, the permanent resident population — which was left entirely unaddressed — and park usage.
Additionally, Ball moved to I.V. as a permanent resident in August — after attending UCSB from 2007-11 — and is presently out of touch with I.V. issues, demonstrative in his inability to fully answer questions relating to time periods when he was absent from I.V.
While Hutchinson expressed strong sentiment towards the inclusion of and empathy towards the unhoused community, he vocalized little to no concrete plans for moving toward such goals besides encouraging “more discussion of sympathy” within IVRPD and the community at large.
“It could be, at the very least, a bigger discussion leading towards more sympathy to the unhoused people who often, through life circumstances, end up relying on the parks,” he said — and while the Nexus applauds such goals as a first step, enacting such discussion without tangible solutions, policies or programming seems unlikely to provide any major benefits to the houseless community.
Throughout the endorsement process, Hutchinson continued to extend town halls and community discussion as a solution to the problems he described.
“I would like to see events where they get to talk and get to share with the larger community,” he said in response to a question about IVRPD programming. “You know, what their experience as an I.V. resident is — the good and the bad — and kind of come together in a sort of town hall sense.”
While town halls can provide valuable insight into the needs of the community, the Nexus expects candidates running for office to conduct such outreach in a personal capacity and have suggestions for actionable goals before ascending to public office, not after.
Fundamentally, every candidate running for these two positions should consider their lack of experience and concrete recommendations for the IVRPD if elected. But, the Nexus believes that if Hutchinson and Ball were to ascend to the positions, they have the most relevant outside experience and capacity for growth to succeed in the roles.
A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the Oct. 20, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.