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Isla Vista Needs a Makeover

Home to Wetlands, Not Dirty Party Town


It’s not often that you find someone becoming elated when they see new construction on a local road, but I felt quite excited when I saw a sign saying that work was beginning on El Colegio Road in Isla Vista. Sure, it said that construction was beginning now, and wouldn’t be done until February 2011. Yes, that’s a long time, but I was just glad it was being done at all.

El Colegio Road during construction last year.
Click to enlarge photo

Cat Neushul

El Colegio Road during construction last year.

Last year, a section of El Colegio extending from Camino del Sur to UCSB was given a makeover. It went from being a nondescript, sometimes traffic-ridden street to an attractive avenue with a median, bike lanes, new sidewalks, and landscaping. This was called Phase I. Phase II started this month. If you were a skeptic, however, you might have called the attractive two-lane road that led to a one-lane bottleneck the “Road to Nowhere.” And you might have worried that the second phase might never get going.

If you take a ride down the new bike path from Isla Vista to UCSB you can see the difference good landscaping makes. The plants and trees placed along the way give this part of Isla Vista the new, well-cared-for feel you see on the UCSB campus. It’s not a place you would expect to see trash or graffiti. However, if you walk a few blocks down into I.V., you won’t find the same pristine vibe. If you are wondering why, think about this. When you go to a friend’s house and it is spotless, you are careful not to leave a mark on the counter, or drop crumbs on the floor. If a person’s house is a mess, you don’t worry as much about a little more dirt. You figure they won’t even notice.

I think this is why there is such a contrast between UCSB and Isla Vista. The same people who attend the university live in I.V., but some of them treat these areas differently. It’s probably the expectations. On the university campus there are a lot of rules, and penalties for infractions. In I.V. there aren’t these types of standards. Some I.V. residents think it is okay to dump their unwanted items in the street, and they’re rather indifferent to whether someone else will clean it up for them, or not.

I’m not trying to say that landscaping, sidewalks, and bike lanes are the key to fixing what is wrong with I.V., but they sure seem to help. The entrance to I.V. is marked with a wooden sign that looks tired and weathered, and accurately reflects the old Isla Vista. It’s quaint and should be preserved as part of the I.V. tradition, but what I would love to see is a more attractive entrance to the area that shows what a beautiful place I.V. really is. Maybe some nice landscaping and a new, large sign would be all that is needed to change I.V.’s image as a party town and a dumping ground. Maybe not, but it’s worth a try.

El Colegio Road and the adjacent South Parcel after construction.
Click to enlarge photo

Cat Neushul

El Colegio Road and the adjacent South Parcel after construction.

Talking about progress, I think it’s important to mention what’s being done to preserve what is good and wonderful about the I.V. area. The open spaces, wetlands, parks, and beaches are what make Isla Vista one of the most beautiful places in the world. And there are quite a few groups and individuals fighting to protect these areas.

This month, UCSB and the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County made an agreement to preserve 68 acres of university-owned open space known as the South Parcel. This land was a potential site for faculty housing, but has now been permanently designated as open space. The South Parcel is located between the Coronado Butterfly Preserve and the Ocean Meadows Golf Course. This land is part of a larger area, 650 acres, extending from Sandpiper Golf Course to Isla Vista, that is also part of a conservation effort.

Plans for the South Parcel include restoration of native plants, coastal scrub habitat, and improvement of public trails. If you’ve taken a walk in the Coal Oil Point Reserve, you’ve seen what conservation efforts can do to restore the area to its impressive native beauty. Even as is, however, the South Parcel is incredibly beautiful, and a wonderful place for children to ride bikes, walk, and explore.

Instead of using the South Parcel as a building site, the university is planning to build 22 units of faculty housing on what is called the North Parcel, near Pacific Oaks Road.

I.V. needs to reshape its image. Maybe a bigger and better sign won’t change everything, but it’s a first step. Most of the students who live in I.V. come to understand how special this area is but move away before they get to put their appreciation into action. A new group of students moves in, and the education begins again. There has to be a way to better use the students as a means to getting the word out about how great I.V. is, and why its resources should be protected.

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