Santa Barbara County Second District Supervisor Laura Capps hosted an Isla Vista Housing and Safety listening session at the Isla Vista Community Center on Monday, April 29, in light of recent cliff fatalities.

Supervisor Capps held a listening session on Isla Vista housing and safety after an April 20 cliff incident. Will Tran / Daily Nexus. 

Capps held the listening session in light of 29-year-old UC Santa Barbara alum Jacob Parker falling from a cliffside residence at 6625 Del Playa Drive and dying shortly after on April 20. Parker was from San Diego, California, and in town for the All Gaucho Reunion weekend. 

He is the second person to succumb from a cliff fatality in the current academic year, along with 19-year-old Santa Barbara City College student Benjamin Schurmer from Ojai, California, who died in September. Both fell from four-foot tall balcony fences. Over the past 20 years, 14 people have died of cliff fatalities in Isla Vista.

Capps commenced the meeting at 5 p.m. and held a moment of silence for the cliff victims. She prefaced the discussion by emphasizing that she wants students to be part of the conversation in developing cliff safety plans. 

“The more I learn … the more we learn, the more we can take action,” Capps said. 

As part of her eight-point safety plan, Capps wants to raise fence heights of cliffside properties from four to six feet, along with implementing more lighting, permanent public bathrooms, effective signage and creating a memorial for the cliff victims in collaboration with their families and UCSB students. 

Per a November Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors vote, the county code is that the minimum fence height on the bluffs is six feet, and they’ve provided a financial incentive for property owners to raise the fences by waiving permit fees. Despite this, Capps said many properties have yet to file for a permit.

During the discussion, attendees raised points about long-term solutions for cliff erosion, erratic college student behavior and the balance between enforcing safe solutions and not interfering with oceanside views. Around 20 people attended the session.

One attendee emphasized how the most popular housing, Del Playa Drive oceanside residences, are the most unsafe. “We’re packed in like sardines,” they said. They pointed out that although the fence height upgrade is a solution, it is temporary due to cliffside erosion. In response, Capps said that part of her work on the board has been to increase housing in Isla Vista.

Henry Sarria, a long-time resident of Isla Vista, recommended there be a policy for reporting unsafe behavior on the balconies, like jumping fences. Capps said there is a Google Form for that, alongside reporting health concerns at residences like mold. 

“Some people are hellbent on jumping that fence,” Sarria said. “No parent should have to outlive their child,” he later added. 

Spencer Brandt, the Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD) director, added that IVCSD offers free rental housing mediation services for tenants and landlords to reach solutions with a district mediator.

Matthew Strzepek, a Goleta resident, raised an issue with the upgrading of fence heights as it blocks ocean views and contributes to the overall urbanization of Isla Vista. He highlighted how Lookout Park, which has a six-foot fence with a black mesh along it, blocks the ocean view.

“We’re becoming sort of like all these other college campuses. It’s become very cold and drab, almost like a concrete jungle,” Strzepek said. 

The implementation of six-foot fence heights in Santa Barbara parks, particularly Estero Park, helped set a precedent as a county, Capps said. She said raising the fence heights on Del Playa Drive “would’ve made death preventable.

Parker’s close friend, Jack Javier, suggested putting a fence up with spokes or another design element that would make climbing preventable while being able to see through it. 

“I don’t care,” Javier said regarding the concern of ocean views. “All of Jake’s family and friends are traumatized now.”

Another of Parker’s close friends, Joaquín Pérez, said property owners “pick and choose” what residency issues they address. He also lived at a 6700 residence. Pérez recalled how his neighbors would continually be out of compliance with property rules, such as having a platform that reached above the fence height, and it took multiple days before action was taken.

“It’s not as simple as self-policing,” Pérez said in response to Strzepek’s suggestion to maintain the status quo of four-foot fences

IVCSD General Manager Jonathan Abboud said that even though fence heights would be higher, there are eight different beach access points. 

“You have to design around human behavior,” Abboud said.

An attendee said they used to jump fences on the cliffside properties to urinate off the cliffs. The danger of the action did not hit until he learned about Schurmer’s passing.

“Goddamn, if you don’t take every step that you can,” he said. 

The meeting concluded at 6 p.m. Capps encouraged the attendees to contact her office and utilize resources like the Santa Barbara Tenants Union, a county-sponsored anonymous building complaint form and another county form for other complaints.

A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the May 2, 2024 edition of the Daily Nexus.

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Lizzy Rager
Lizzy Rager (she/her) is the Assistant News Editor for the 2024-25 school year. She can be reached at lizzyrager@dailynexus.com