As the founding board president of the Isla Vista Community Services District, Ethan Bertrand devoted the past eight years to providing self-governance to the Isla Vista community and championing a reformative approach to public safety.

As IVCSD director, Bertrand gave voice to the student community and proudly represented the LGBTQIA+ community as a gay person of color. Courtesy Ethan Bertrand

Newly elected to the Goleta Union School District Board of Education, Bertrand resigned from his position as Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD) director in December 2022 after six years in office.

Bertrand’s dedication, enthusiasm and involvement in the Isla Vista community lended itself to a tenure that prioritized compassion, public engagement and efficacy.

“During my time in office, I really gave it my all,” he said. “It was my passion. It was my life. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, though I feel like I really did my part.”

As a director, he also gave voice to the student community and proudly represented the LGBTQIA+ community as a gay person of color. In 2021, Bertrand authored a unanimously approved resolution to officially recognize June as Pride Month in I.V.

“All of us, we brought our unique backgrounds, perspectives and life experiences together, and we helped define what service on the Isla Vista Community Services District looks like,” Bertrand said. “That’s also a legacy, where there are now norms for what it looks like to be an engaged, elected official in our community.”

Bertrand’s committee work left an indelible mark on the district, as he helped shape the framework of IVCSD through the Finance Committee, the Policy Committee and the Committee to Select a General Manager during the beginning of his tenure. 

Growing up in New Jersey, Bertrand decided to follow his twin brother to California in 2014 after their high school graduation with a shared plan to study at Santa Barbara City College and transfer to UC Santa Barbara thereafter.

Upon arriving in I.V. that August, Bertrand encountered a community in mourning from the 2014 Isla Vista tragedy that took place months prior.

“This was a place that captured our heart already, and to see the devastation that the community experienced as a result of the gun violence and the hate-fueled violence that took place, it was absolutely heartbreaking,” he said.

His experience witnessing the community’s grief informed his future policy work to improve public safety through a lens of restorative justice, as exemplified by his leadership in the establishment of I.V. Safety Stations, a Survivor Resource Center and an interpersonal violence investigator position.

Although he didn’t have prior political experience, Bertrand said he always “had a heart for public service” and sought ways to get involved in the community.

As he delved into I.V. politics, Bertrand served the Santa Barbara community through several other roles including as a campaign intern for then-Congresswoman Lois Capps and as former 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart’s district representative. He also served as a director of the I.V. Recreation & Park District from 2015-16.

Per assignment, he attended an I.V. self-governance meeting in October 2014, where a grassroots effort was already underway to create a local government that would provide direct representation for I.V. residents.

“Little did I know, they changed the course of my life. From that moment on, I was fascinated by this project, this labor of love to create a local government in Isla Vista that would truly work to better the lives of the people of the community,” he said. “From there, I started coming back every week to the Isla Vista self-governance meetings.”

The California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 3 in 2015, which allowed Measures E and F to be placed on the 2016 ballot. Measure E, mandating the creation of IVCSD, passed overwhelmingly, but the district failed to secure tax-based revenue with the rejection of Measure F. With AB-3’s passage, UCSB pledged a grant of $200,000 per year for the first seven years of the district’s operation for mutually agreed-upon projects.

That same election night, Bertrand won his seat on the IVCSD Board of Directors and went on to serve as the founding president for the first two years of the district’s existence.

“We had succeeded in finally creating this local government and we did not take that for granted. We were very proud, we were very excited and there was so much passion,” he said. 

Nonetheless, the lack of revenue posed significant financial difficulties to the district.

Faced with the daunting task of leading a district with no funding, Bertrand tirelessly and creatively navigated these obstacles and led negotiations with the university to implement their monetary pledge.

“This was a tough moment as leaders because we had this huge mandate, and we had this huge responsibility but we did not have our independent funding,” he said.

Bertrand impressed on his first and immediate priority as president: to build a strong relationship with the university in order to secure support and funding. He held meetings with UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang and his executive team and met with UCSB’s director of capital development.

“It was an exciting time, but it took over every part of our lives. That said, we were so inspired and honored to be able to do that. We were truly committed and even though we were so daunted by the task ahead, we knew this would work.”

Bertrand detailed his extensive work to perform administrative tasks and set up the operational infrastructure for the district. In the absence of a general manager or any staff to perform executive responsibilities, much of that work was handled by Bertrand, with the help of fellow board members.

“We had to create policies, we had to create bylaws, we had to create financial procedures,” he said. “I had so much support and every director was working hard but, at the end of the day, I was the president, and a lot of the executive work fell on me.”

In the early days of the district, Bertrand succeeded under immense pressure to meet the community’s mandate to set up the government itself while simultaneously working to provide services to constituents as soon as possible.

“I like to say, ‘We were building the plane while we were flying the plane,’’’ Bertrand said. “We had the mandate to get up [and] running, and that’s what we did.”

IVCSD realized a stable funding source in 2018 when voters affirmed an 8% user-utility tax with the passing of Measure R.

During his term, Bertrand innovated essential public safety programs under his mission to create a community-oriented system of care and provide alternatives to traditional policing.

Notably, he devised and led the implementation of I.V. Safety Stations — a program offering water, phone chargers and a safe place to rest — deploying UCSB students trained as Community Service Officers on duty. 

“It uses unarmed community members to provide a public safety service,” Bertrand said of the program. “It focuses on the wellness of individuals and not on criminalization.”

The program represents a cornerstone in Bertrand’s ambition to reduce incidents of sexual assault and harassment, establish positive visibility of government and decriminalize public intoxication. He reflected upon the program as one of his “most proud” accomplishments.

“What this shows is the positive presence we’ve been able to have in the community,” he said. “This program originally started out focused on the escort side of it, but it turned into providing more caring, trusting workers in the community who can help keep people safe at night.”

Bertrand was also instrumental in hiring an interpersonal violence investigator who would work exclusively with the I.V. community on cases related to sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and more.

“The critical and unique part of this program was that it was truly done from a survivor-centered approach,” Bertrand said. “The traditional law enforcement response has been very focused on prosecution and gathering evidence so that an arrest can be made [and] someone can be convicted.”

IVCSD also opened the Survivor Resource Center in 2018 in partnership with Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA). Bertrand dedicated himself further to addressing “systemic issues of sexual violence” within college communities, serving as STESA board president since 2019.

Despite IVCSD’s limited authorized powers, Bertrand employed clever thinking to decide how programs could legally fall under the purview of the district. Bertrand pointed to the I.V. Compost Collective, created by UCSB students and later adopted by IVCSD in 2020, as an example.

“This service is an example of us being creative, and being responsive to what the community has brought towards us,” he said. “I appreciate the spirit of innovation that we have maintained throughout our service.”

Over the course of Bertrand’s service, IVCSD greatly expanded its services and staff hiring — far from its small beginnings.

“It warms my heart every day when I go around and I see our services in action, and it’s humbling to remember the days when these services didn’t exist,” he said.

On the Goleta Union School Board, Bertrand will continue to represent I.V. residents as the Area 5 trustee.

Bertrand’s involvement with IVCSD and multiple other community agencies was consistently in service to better the quality of life for local residents. The Nexus believes Bertrand’s tenure set an impressive legacy for future community leaders to follow in shaping the future of governance in I.V.

“It’s been the honor of a lifetime to serve my community in this capacity. I am so proud of everything that we worked to do over these past six years.”

A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the Feb. 9, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.


Nisha Malley
Nisha Malley (she/her/hers) is the County News Editor for the 2022-23 school year. Previously, Malley was an Assistant News Editor for the 2021-22 school year. She can be reached at