Santa Barbara community advocates and elected officials celebrated this week after the California State Department of Finance approved the county’s plan to retain control of three Isla Vista properties on Friday. The Isla Vista Clinic, a vacant church property, and a solar-powered parking lot located along Embarcadero del Mar were all formerly owned by Santa Barbara’s Redevelopment Agency (RDA). The Board of Supervisors — acting as the RDA’s successor agency — had managed the assets since 2012, when the RDAs were dissolved across the state in order to fund public services at the municipal level.
“We are stoked,” said Frank Thompson, who finances low-income housing projects in Santa Barbara and played a key role in the process. “People are really happy.”
Last September, county staff recommended that the supes sell two of the properties, appraised at $4 million total. But a flurry of support for keeping the buildings accessible to the community, spearheaded by UCSB Associated Students representatives, I.V. Clinic representatives, and past and current I.V. residents, helped sway elected officials. Similarly, letter-writing campaigns and efforts by 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, and Assemblymember Das Williams contributed to persuading Department of Finance officials.
In 2012, RDA Oversight Boards — composed of affected taxing entities, including K-14 districts, city, and county — were established to oversee the successor agency’s work. This oversight committee was to ensure that funds were distributed to local parties, after enforceable obligations were paid off. In October, the Isla Vista RDA Oversight Board unanimously approved the supervisor’s revised plan to retain the properties.
“When we first heard that when RDA were going to be dissolved, it looked like it was impossible to hang on to not only one, not two, but three properties,” said Farr, whose district includes the unincorporated region of Isla Vista. “I really credit the coming together of the community.”
Located in one of the three properties is the I.V. Clinic, which sees about 1,110 low-income patients each month, and is owned by the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics (SBNC). The nonprofit health-care organization experienced severe financial hardships last year but has been able to stay afloat because local donations and federal grants have since provided relief. In November, SBNC won a federal grant of $812,500 to open a new clinic in the City of Goleta, which will serve an estimated 19,000 people a year. Currently, at least 25 percent of I.V. Clinic’s patients are Goleta residents.
The I.V. Clinic occupies about half of the building that it is located in, and I.V. community activists are hoping to turn the remaining half into a community center. Isla Vista is the only town in the county without one, they argued, and such a space could act as an anchor in a community with a quick turnover rate composed largely of students.
The church property — located at 976 Embarcadero del Mar — is also a potential meeting place, but its doors have been locked for some time. When the church will be open for use is still to be determined, and Farr said she plans to walk through the buildings with General Services soon to figure out next steps.
“It was that really unified voice saying the same thing,” said Farr. “Isla Vista needs this. Isla Vista deserves this.”