Santa Barbara County 2nd District Supervisor Laura Capps, alongside county staff, presented an eight-step bluff safety plan on Sept. 28 ahead of the start of the 2023-24 year.
The safety plan followed the passing of Santa Barbara City College student and Ojai resident Benjamin ‘Benny’ Schurmer on the bluffs of Isla Vista during Labor Day weekend. Mothers of other cliff accident victims joined Capps to present the plan.
“Tragically, he is one of 13 young people whose lives have been cut short by an accident involving the bluffs along Isla Vista,” Capps said in an email statement. “As a mom, this loss has hit me especially hard. I commend the courage of the moms who have joined me today.”
Fencing is the first priority of the eight-step plan. Capps plans to raise the Santa Barbara County (SBC) Building Code for fence heights along the bluffs from four feet to a six-foot minimum. Additionally, these fences will be made with unspecified “anti-climb material” and will be mandatory for both county and private land. Capps plans on proposing these new regulations to the SBC Board of Supervisors by Nov. 7.
Another concern is that the lack of lighting alongside the cliffs — due to light inhibiting coastal views, according to alleged resident complaints listed in the plan— makes for dangerous cliffside conditions. Capps plans to install motion-sensor lighting as a compromise and safety measure. The third step would be putting up light-up signs that are durable and less prone to theft to provide better safety warnings to people by the bluffs.
The Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD) also portioned $15,000 to install new restroom options and four porta potties along Del Playa Drive as “one reason for people to hop the fence and/or get too close to the edge is to urinate,” according to the plan.
The fifth step of the plan aims to educate the community about bluff safety by utilizing the media and the families of those who have passed away in cliff accidents.
“We will maintain our collaborative efforts with Santa Barbara City College, UCSB, and the Isla Vista Community Services District to both educate the community and further enhance existing initiatives,” the safety plan read.
The county also plans on expanding the horticulture around the bluffs to include shrubbery that could deter trespassers with its “thorns, prickles or other sharp characteristics.”
In the seventh step of their plan, Capps plans on memorializing the 13 individuals who passed away in bluff-related accidents as a way to remind others about safety while honoring the lives lost. This would require gaining approval from the victims’ families and finding a fiscal sponsor.
Finally, SBC is working with IVCSD and the Sheriff’s Office to improve the enforcement of safety measures throughout I.V. in order to prevent accidents from occurring in the future. Specific methods to do so have yet to be announced.
In addition to the safety plan, SBC expressed concerns about alcohol and drug use leading to accidents around the bluffs and is taking measures to increase education regarding substance misuse.
“Efforts to address these issues have included ongoing education and awareness campaigns aimed at promoting responsible behavior and personal safety, particularly during events like Deltopia and other gatherings,” the safety plan read.
Capps said she and the SBC staff remain dedicated to improving safety measures around the bluffs beginning with these eight steps.
“My team and I are one hundred percent committed to doing what is possible to prevent another fatal fall,” Capps said in the email statement.
“With gratitude, this work has been informed by the thoughts and experiences of other families who have lost their children in accidents along the bluffs, the Associated Students of UCSB, and other caring members of the community who have reached out to share their constructive ideas,” she said. “We are all dedicated to achieving a safer Isla Vista.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 2 of the Oct. 5, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.