Assemblymember Das Williams’s newfangled effort to bring a voice to Isla Vistans took a big step forward Wednesday morning when it passed out of the State Senate Governance and Finance Committee.
AB 3, Williams told committee members, could create a community service district in the college town that has hit a “breaking point.” Short of a full-grown city, this special district would generate funds to pay for a tenant mediation program, an area planning commission, supplemental law enforcement officers, a municipal advisory committee, and a parking district, among other services. A vote of the people on a utilities users tax, Williams said, would be required before the district is operational.
Notably, the district would not consolidate with the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District (IVRPD), overseen by a five-member board of long-term residents and students. In fact, the measure specifies the special district would not have “the power to organize, promote, conduct, or advertise programs of community recreation” in the same manner as the IVRPD.
On Wednesday, State Senator Bob Herzberg, a Democrat from Los Angeles who chairs the Governance and Finance Committee, set a supportive tone for a relatively succinct hearing. Herzberg made a point to address a critic who raised the issue that the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) was put in place by the legislature decades ago to form special districts, and this measure would bypass that process.
It just so happens Herzberg coauthored a law that mandates greater independence for LAFCO boards. He appeared not the least bit concerned that AB 3 does not go through the process he worked for four years to strengthen. “The point is you have a class of people in a community that is distinctive,” he said.
Santa Barbara’s LAFCO, however, has taken a dim view of AB 3, discussing it for the past half-year ad nauseam and sending letters of opposition to the state. A LAFCO representative was not sent to oppose the measure, which LAFCO did at the Assembly’s Local Government Committee in May.
Herzberg further squashed the concern that I.V. is made up of transient young people, ill suited to serve on the district’s board. “The student body population is not going away because UCSB is not going away,” he said. The board would be made up of five elected members — serving four-year terms, except one who would serve two — and two appointed members, one by the county and the other by the university. In two weeks, Herzberg will pay a visit to Isla Vista.
The UCSB campus is excluded from the district’s boundaries per recent amendments. Regardless, the university would not be subject to a utilities users tax on campus buildings, though the school would likely set up a Memorandum of Understanding with the special district to contribute to it financially. It’s unclear if the Isla Vista Theater or Embarcadero Hall would be in the boundaries. To date, the UC Office of the President has not taken an official stance on the bill. (UCSB does not take formal positions on state legislation.)
Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents Isla Vista but could not make the meeting because a supervisors meeting ran late the night before, sent a representative to read a statement. She voiced support for the measure and distanced herself from the opposing position of LAFCO, a board she chairs.
Carlos Lopez, campus organizing director of Associated Students, was among the UCSB students who made the trip to make a plea for the bill. Lopez told committee members that when he speaks to friends, acquaintances, and strangers at UCSB, “nothing about my work makes their eyes light up the way self-governance does.” He went on to say he might not live in Isla Vista for another five years, “but I believe in my duty to work to better this town I have come to love for all of the future students and residents who will call this beautiful town home.”
Property owners, on the other hand, have been among those who voiced early skepticism. A representative from the Santa Barbara Rental Properties Association argued a person who owns property in Isla Vista but is not a resident would not be able to vote on the utilities users tax. Likewise, two anti-tax advocates voiced opposition to the bill, calling it “dramatically unprecedented” and “inappropriate.”
But those arguments had little effect on committee members. Just before AB 3 passed out of committee on a 5-2 vote — on party lines — Senator Jim Beall, who represents the San Jose area, told the committee UCSB did not go through “town and gown” activities when it was built decades ago. In the past, he had visited Isla Vista several times because his stepson went to UCSB about 20 years ago. “A lot of needs still talked about today [have not changed],” he said. “To sit back and say the regular process is appropriate is inappropriate for taking care of the safety and protection of these young people who are trying to learn.”
Next, AB 3 must get out of the Senate Appropriates Committee; it must pass off the Senate floor by September 11.