The County Planning Commission voted unanimously this week to install a 4.5-foot-high, 1,400-foot-long fence along a section of the Isla Vista bluffs and to look at extending the fence further west in the near future. The fencing — wooden poles covered with chain link material that will run to the top of the poles to prevent sitting — comes amid growing cries for increased protections along the cliffs, from which three young adults have accidentally fallen to their deaths in the last three years.
The move for the permanent barriers — which won’t block beach access but will line the edges of a stretch of six parks and open-space areas along Del Playa Drive — has had the support of many students (including a group called Fence Isla Vista), UCSB, the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District, and the county’s Parks Division. Earlier this year, after 20-year-old UCSB student Sierra Markee-Winkler fatally fell from the bluffs, the county secured an emergency permit for temporary fencing, which UCSB paid for.
But quickly after it was set up, that temporary fencing was torn down by an Isla Vista resident. A county planner at this week’s commission meeting said it has been vandalized since and shouldn’t be expected to last much longer. Although a few people expressed issues with the planned fencing’s aesthetic qualities, an otherwise supportive assortment of public speakers — including UCSB students, UCSB Assistant Vice Chancellor and Isla Vista liaison George Thurlow, and a representative for Sheriff Bill Brown — encouraged the commissioners to put it in place to prevent future tragedies.
“If you hate fences, don’t look at them — walk down to the beach,” said UCSB student Molly Morrison. “I’ve met many families who’ve had to bury children as a result of these bluffs. The issue of negligence in Isla Vista has been a longstanding problem. Don’t make this one yet another check on the list.” Morrison, who got emotional during her comments, has lost three friends to cliff falls: 21-year-old David Propp in 2012, 18-year-old Giselle Ayala in 2013, and Markee-Winkler earlier this year.
Markee-Winkler’s parents, Lon Winkler and Siobhan Markee, sent an email to the Planning Commission, likewise imploring the county to erect the fencing. “Please, do the right thing,” they wrote. “Install adequate fencing sufficient to prevent anyone else from falling off the cliffs in Isla Vista. Protect the safety of the residents of Isla Vista.”
Since 2001, seven people have died as a result of falling from the bluffs. Since 2010, 20 people have fallen but survived. Earlier this month, two young adults suffered nonfatal falls.
Renee Bahl, assistant county CEO and interim director of the Community Services Department (which oversees County Parks), said the county has to wait until the official period for appeals to the project passes before moving forward with installation, which she projected should come in early 2015. The fencing will cost approximately $50,000, she added, which county staff hopes to secure in donations from the university, student groups, and area nonprofits.