There’s something that can happen to you once you get involved in Isla Vista politics.
It can come on slowly, but before you know it, you’ve got what I’ll call I.V.-itis. It’s not the type of disease that can kill you, but it’s one that can cause you some embarrassment.
You start talking about redevelopment, the I.V. Master Plan, or that controversial item that I.V. residents will be voting on this November 4, Measure D. You end up saying a lot, without making a lot of sense.
I had seen it happen to a good friend, and then a neighbor. Finally, it happened to me. I found myself standing in an elementary school parking lot babbling incoherently about underground parking structures, and parks, and teen centers. The person I was talking to smiled politely and left as soon as he could.
You may wonder why this happens. I think there are several reasons. For one, it’s that I.V. residents care about their community. A lot. It makes them emotional. Secondly, they know its history. They can point to a park and tell you what happened there in the past, whether it was a peace rally, a concert, or a wedding. And lastly, they want to protect what they think makes I.V. what it is.
Unfortunately, for different people this means different things.
At a Measure D information meeting last Thursday, I saw the best of what I.V. politics has to offer. A Park District boardmember and a local argued about the minutia of government policy, a student questioned whether I.V. needed to be changed at all, and a guy in a blue beanie in the back kept saying under his breath “D is going down.”
It was like watching a reality show, but better.
After attending my second Measure D information meeting at the Isla Vista Teen Center, here’s what I know. First of all, the measure is confusing. Measure D, which is on the November ballot, would allow the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District (IVRPD) the right to sell, trade, or lease several downtown parks - or underground easements to those parks - to the Santa Barbara County Redevelopment Agency. A potential deal could involve Pardall Gardens, Perfect Park, People’s Park, and the land beneath the IVRPD office. (Anisq’Oyo’ Park is still on the ballot measure, but is not supposed to be a part of the deal.) If the measure passes by a two-thirds vote, the five member Park District board can decide to sell, or not sell, trade, or not trade these properties for up to 10 years.
Jaime Goldstein, deputy director for the Santa Barbara County Redevelopment Agency (RDA), said the Park District properties, or the easements to those properties, were appraised at more than $4 million. “I got a little bit of a sticker shock,” he added.
The IVRPD could use any funds collected through a sale, lease, or trade of its properties to build a community center, and to pay for infrastructure, such as park improvements. The county would get the rights to build a parking structure underneath Perfect and People’s parks and the IVRPD property. The parking structure would provide parking for downtown businesses, people living in affordable housing, and for the overflow of students who glut the streets of I.V., not necessarily in that order. “Parking is a pain in the ass,” Goldstein said. And that’s the truth. What to do about the problem, however, is up for debate. Who would actually use the downtown parking structure? That’s still not clear. While I can’t see Russia from my front porch, I can sure see a lot of parking structures.
Goldstein added, “I’m not sure a parking structure would be built.” He explained that there may not be a need for such a structure if people use alternative means of transportation in the future. “If everyone’s riding a Segway or pogo stick - great.” The cost of an underground parking structure would be about $20 million, Goldstein said. Once the parking structure was built, a park would be put in above.
Since parking is a major concern for I.V. residents, the RDA has already been working on this issue. It’s putting in a solar parking structure, with 45 spaces, on the corner of Pardall Road and Embarcadero del Mar. But, as locals know, 45 spaces won’t solve the problem.
Ken Warfield, chairman of the IVRPD, said in a co-authored argument in favor of Measure D for the ballot, “This measure would allow for the sale of the District Office and Pardall Gardens in order to build a much needed Isla Vista community center … ”
After seeing the Isla Vista Teen Center, and talking with its director, Leonor Reyes, I see why people in the community feel strongly about building a permanent structure for youth activities. Reyes said the center serves about 30 teens a day ranging in age from 11 to 18. They do homework, work on the computer, take music classes, and play games. “It’s great because they’re here, and not out and about,” Reyes said.
The current teen center location is only temporary. Warfield said the structure will only last for a few more years due to safety issues. But even if Measure D doesn’t pass, a teen center could still be built, according to Goldstein. He said the IVRPD could present a plan for a teen center to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. “I suspect they would take that plan very seriously,” he said. “There’s money in the Redevelopment Agency.”
At the Measure D meeting, emotions ran high. When two of the meeting’s participants got into a heated discussion, another said, “Let’s try to keep it with questions and answers.” But trying to keep the emotion out of the debate is difficult. Some people at the meeting remember when - and that’s the problem. When someone talks about selling the parks to help make the community better, they tune out. Even when someone explains that the money will be used for a community center, park improvements, and parking structures, some of them still don’t buy into it.
Measure D is a test to see what voters see as the future of I.V., and I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens.