Santa Barbara County 2nd District Supervisor Laura Capps held a community gathering at Sea Lookout Park last Saturday afternoon to update Isla Vista and Santa Barbara residents on her eight-step Isla Vista Bluff Safety Plan. 

Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD), Santa Barbara County Parks Department staff and other community leaders joined Capps to speak on the progress and completed improvements to ensure bluff safety.

The gathering’s purpose was to also hear from the public about their concerns and other suggested solutions. Bryce Hutchins / Daily Nexus

Supervisor Capps issued her eight-point plan in September 2023 in an immediate response to the death of Benny Schurmer, a 19-year-old Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) student who fell from the coastal cliffs over Labor Day weekend. 

Capps’ eight-point plan includes improvements and installations of the following: fencing, lighting, warning signs, bathrooms, education, horticulture, memorial and enforcement. 

Beyond updating the community on her bluff safety plan, Capps said in her speech that the gathering’s purpose was to also hear from the public about their concerns and other suggested solutions.

“We know why we are here,” Capps said “We’ve had too many tragedies along these cliffs. There have been 13 deaths that we know of, but also too many falls.”

Capps said a student-organized petition written by SBCC second-year theatre arts major Grace Wilson, a student and friend of Schurmer’s, impassioned her to improve bluff safety. 

The petition — titled “Protect Young Lives in Isla Vista: Enhance Safety Measures at Dangerous Cliffsites — called for the installation of accessible portable restrooms, higher cliff-side fencing and advocated for safety and caution through warning signs. Since September 2023, the petition has garnered 11,377 signatures. 

“People are falling off cliffs as part of their daily existence,” Capps said. “We are here because we need sensible solutions.”

Capps said two points in her plan have already been completed, installing public restrooms at Walter Capps Park immediately after Schurmer’s death in collaboration with IVCSD, raising fencing in Sea Lookout Park from 4 feet to 6 feet and implementing a chain link fence.

Jeff Lindgren, the assistant director of the Parks Division for the City of Santa Barbara, said the Parks Division is currently working to install signs and additional lighting along the fences and walkways. The division is also continuing to install more fencing along the Sea Lookout Park walkways and in Pelican Park and Rottapel Park. 

As a former UC Santa Barbara student, Lindgren said not many people were aware of the cliff safety issue. 

“There was a year when a group of San Diego State [University] students came here and a couple of them fell from the bluffs. But other than that, it really didn’t cross my mind and I don’t think any of us really thought about the dangers of being on the bluffs,” Lindgren said.

IVCSD General Manager Jonathan Abboud spoke about issuing educational materials to the Isla Vista community to raise awareness about the bluffs. 

“We don’t have the ability to make rules, but we can advocate and educate,” Abboud said. 

The IVCSD hosted a town hall meeting in early February to talk about the new bluff safety policies. IVCSD also created an educational pamphlet titled “Isla Vista Cliff Erosion and Safety,” which includes details about cliff erosion, cliff safety, balcony and roof safety, as well as emergency resources on cliff safety. 

“This is the fastest and most effective I’ve seen the county be,” Abboud said.

The IVCSD hosted a town hall meeting in early February to talk about the new bluff safety policies. Bryce Hutchinson / Daily Nexus

As a UCSB alum and former Associated Students president, Abboud said he has personally seen the dangers of cliff safety. Living on Del Playa Drive as a student, he noted that there was a cliff death every year and this contributed to his efforts to create a more responsive government. 

“It is sad to hear the people you represent felt like there was no voice,” Abboud said. 

At the end of the gathering, Supervisor Capps opened the meeting to questions from the public, as well as ideas for other solutions to cliff safety measures and awareness. She also surveyed the audience on how aware I.V. residents were of the problem with cliff falls. One student said that cliff safety “mostly doesn’t come up unless someone falls.”

Capps said she is continuing to work on and implement the rest of her 8-Point Plan, and there will be another community safety meeting sometime in the near future.

“I live in daily fear that we are not moving fast enough until we experience another tragedy,” Capps said.

A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the Feb. 29, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.