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The Devil in the Details

Why the I.V. Master Plan Is Both Promise and Threat


When I first envisioned the Isla Vista Master Plan, I saw it as a step-by-step description of what would, and would not, be done in Isla Vista. Not so. The Master Plan, as locals know, is a work in progress.

The Master Plan was designed to revitalize Isla Vista, remove physical blight, and eliminate economic obsolescence. These are the objectives. Here are some of the facts. Pardall Road is getting an overhaul with wider sidewalks and more trees, there are plans to build affordable housing downtown, and parking structures are being discussed. What isn’t clear is the how, and the when, and, in some cases, the why.

There are a bunch of people, with different interests, and that fact complicates the act of getting anything done. For example, Jaime Goldstein, deputy director of the Santa Barbara County Redevelopment Agency, said he had tried to create a car-free zone on Pardall Road. A great idea since driving down the street requires dodging bicycle-riding college students. (Think of the video game Frogger). While many merchants and owners were supportive of the plan despite the fact that they would have been required to provide access behind their businesses to accommodate delivery trucks, there was at least one person who was not on board. “Two thirds of an alley doesn’t get us an alley,” Goldstein said. He added, “It’s just like having a 10-way marriage, and trying to make everyone get along.”

So, for now, Pardall will have new sidewalks and a makeover, but will not have a downtown, traffic-free mall. For some people this is a good thing. “They want it to be just like L.A. with a McDonald’s on Pardall,” one man complained to me as we stood looking at the downtown parks.

I sympathize with his concern. I moved from L.A. to get away from just that type of thing. But let’s face it: I.V. needs a facelift. A nip here. A tuck there. I wasn’t sad to see the destruction of the Lath House, the wooden structure at Acorn Park. I had wondered when one of its sections was going to fall off and hit me in the head while I was sitting underneath with my coffee and bagel. For some people, however, any modification - even such a seemingly innocuous one - changes the Isla Vista they love. When I inadvertently mentioned that I thought Jaime Goldstein was a nice guy, a friend, who opposes many of the County Redevelopment Agency’s plans, said quietly “He’s the devil.” And she meant it.

So here’s my take on the whole thing. I’m not against progress because it may change things. Some things need to be changed. What pisses me off, however, are the details that get lost when you’re dealing with a so-called “master plan,” like what happens to the trees in front of the shops on Pardall. They are supposed to be removed and saved. Hope so. Or the beautiful tile work in front of the I.V. Surf Co. And now the downtown parks.

The I.V. Recreation & Park District is placing a referendum on the November ballot that will ask I.V. voters to give the board the authority to sell, trade, or lease rights to several downtown parks as well as the district office to the County Redevelopment Agency.

According to the description on the county’s Web site, this “swap” will give the I.V. Park District the land where the medical clinic and St. Athanasius stand, and also a cash payment. The county would get the IVPD office site, Pardall Gardens, and subsurface rights to Perfect Park, People’s Park. This is if, and only if, the voters approve the referendum by a two-thirds vote, and the board members decide to go ahead.

The deal would provide money - though how much is still being evaluated - for a community center in Estero Park and infrastructure. The county would get rights to build a downtown parking garage under the parks. (The hypothetical garage would have a hypothetical park on top which would increase park space by 0.64 acres.) With this parking structure, affordable housing developers could meet their parking restrictions.

What worries me about this referendum is giving anyone, even my trusted leaders, carte blanche. It allows the Park District to decide whether to lease, trade, or sell rights to each of the parks, and the district office, after the voters give their approval. For 10 years. What I want to make sure, before I give my okay, is that I have a clear understanding of what is to be done with the parks. I want to know how an underground parking structure, with a park above it, would actually look and feel. Goldstein said the parking structure could potentially be a two-level structure with hundreds of parking spaces, and that a possible problem with a high water table could be overcome. “If they can build a tunnel through the English Channel, we can build a parking structure with a high water table,” he said.

My question is not could we, but should we.

If you trust your leaders to always do what you think is right, then you can sit back and watch. Give them your trust. If you, like me, have seen people - I won’t name any names, George Bush - do things you don’t agree with, keep your eyes and ears open.

You have to remember - the devil is in the details.

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