IT’S ISLA VISTA, JAKE: Really? This is really the best plan we could come up with to put the crazed genie of Isla Vista back in the bottle from which it maniacally escaped 60 years ago? On the table is a plan to create yet another community services district endowed with exceptionally vague and wishy-washy powers of “self-governance” — pardon me while I gag — even vaguer powers of taxation, and some dubious scheme by which some district representatives would be elected and others appointed. And if that weren’t febrile enough to put me into a home for the terminally dead, Assemblymember Das Williams has just introduced a bill in Sacramento to bypass the local process by which such governmental travesties are traditionally concocted — the Local Agency Formation Commission. Presumably, that way he and his pals can craft something to their liking behind closed doors and deliver it as if from on high.
Did I say “Pardon me while I gag”?
What’s most galling is not the rabidly insipid nature of this proposal. It’s that in the world of realpolitik — to be intoned in your best Henry Kissinger-is-the-Devil voice — this might actually be the best deal to be had. If politics is the art of the possible, Isla Vista is famously impossible. I.V., in a nutshell, is the syphilitic bastard brainchild of T.M. Storke — former owner/publisher of the News-Press and Santa Barbara’s de facto Über Boss who single-handedly crowbarred UCSB into existence. Storke sold his UCSB dream to the area real estate goons as one would sell feces to flies, and the landlords have been swarming ever since. With single rooms renting there for $1,400 a month, why not?
This year, however, we got the proverbial wake-up call. Actually, the alarm clock has yet to stop ringing. Most obviously, there was Elliot Rodger’s lethal rampage. Then there was Deltopia coupled with a few spontaneous flash mob riots. Two high-profile gang rapes commandeered newspaper headlines, obscuring a quieter, more pervasive undercurrent of sexual violence. The price of UCSB doing business as usual, it seems, has come to include the deaths of six or seven stupid drunks — unless they happen to be your kids — who fall to their doom from the bluffs every year.
The creation of another special district — via the smoke-and-mirrors magic of Williams’s backroom deal — just won’t cut it when it comes to creating an effective political nucleus for 23,000 wild-and-crazy electrons crammed into sixth-tenths of one square mile. The simplest and only rational solution has been for Isla Vista to be part of Goleta. But when the malcontents demanding cityhood for the Good Land finally won incorporation back in 2002, they deliberately excluded Isla Vista for fear that student voters might take over the government and enact rent control. It’s worth noting — derisively, of course — that Guten Landers have since grown so bored by the existence of their own city that no one bothered to run for the city council this November.
Goleta will never willingly take on the burden of governing Isla Vista. Given the costs, it would be insane. But there are a few carrots that could change that picture. First, though, I’d like to discuss the stick I’d use to threaten the Good Land into submission. The City of Santa Barbara owns about 900 acres of airport property in the heart of Goleta. It would be an ideal location for a Target department store, and Target has been trying to snag a spot in Goleta for nearly 20 years and has failed repeatedly. Throughout it all, the City of Santa Barbara has steadfastly sat on its hands, trying to be a good neighbor and not jam Goleta’s interchanges with shoppers whose sales taxes would accrue to S.B. To quote boxer Roberto “Hands of Stone” Durán, “No más.” Time for City Hall to throw down on the Good Land and roll out the red carpet for Target at the airport. In the context of local government, that’s the nuclear option. But I’d go even more radioactive; I’d suggest Santa Barbara start drilling new water wells on its airport property. That land overlays — to use the parlance of water purveyors — Goleta’s giant groundwater basin. My understanding is that the overlaying property owner holds senior rights to any subsurface water. Again, Santa Barbara has agreed not to do this. But legally, it could. And unless Goleta gets its ass to the bargaining table, it absolutely should.
So what about those carrots? Ever since Goleta was formed, it’s been sniveling and whining about getting shortchanged by the County of Santa Barbara to the tune of $5 million a year through a complex accounting of transferred costs, responsibilities, and revenues. The fact is Goleta got royally skunked at the bargaining table, far worse — it turns out — than any newly created city in California. If Goleta agreed to take on responsibility for Isla Vista, the county would have to renegotiate its deal with Goleta. I’m guessing Isla Vista currently costs the county far more than it brings in, so that’s a proverbial win-win. In addition, there are a couple of Goleta sanitary districts floating around, and the Goleta West Sanitary District has an especially rich and dependable revenue stream. Efforts by Goleta to take over Goleta West have all ended in failure. But if Goleta were to accept the burden of Isla Vista, I’d bet the farm that Goleta West would willingly give up its redundant existence in a heartbeat.
But what about all the crazy student voters? Wouldn’t Goleta go Commie-Pinko-Red if they were included? If Goleta adopted district elections — rather than at large — the hypothetical insanity that student voters could inflict would be contained and restricted to one or two seats on the council. If the so-called civic activists who slept through Goleta’s elections this year couldn’t maintain majority control in this context, they’d deserve whatever they got.
That’s my blueprint, admittedly, to nowhere. In the meantime, we’ll have to endure endless discussions of “good governance” and community service districts.
Excuse me, but did I say gag me?