Assemblymember Das Williams took to Facebook Wednesday afternoon to post “Woowhoo!” after his unique Isla Vista bill — AB 3 — easily passed out of the Assembly’s Local Government Committee. The approval was not unexpected. Neither was the fact that a dozen Isla Vistans, many who had spent every Tuesday evening since December exhaustively creating details of the bill, trekked to the State Capitol for the hearing. Unlike most legislation, AB 3 started life as a shell of a bill which has been slowly filled in during 42 weekly meetings held over the past half-year.
Wednesday’s approval was one step in a long road ahead. AB 3 — which would morph the unincorporated area of I.V. into a community service district (CSD) — must clear many hurdles, including the Appropriations Committee, the Assembly and Senate floors, and Governor Jerry Brown, before it can get to the ballot in 2016. At that point, a majority of Isla Vista voters has to approve its creation. To secure funds to actually operate, a utilities user tax would have to be okayed by two-thirds of voters on a second ballot in 10 years’ time. (Otherwise the district would dissolve.)
Though he could not make the trip to Sacramento, longtime education advocate Lanny Ebenstein watched the hearing online and called the vote an “unmitigated victory.” Ebenstein, who first met Williams in the ‘90s during the push to incorporate Goleta, has been on-and-off involved in AB 3 discussions. He was encouraged that Assemblymember Brian Maienschein, a Republican who chairs the Local Government Committee, opted not to oppose what he called “unprecedented” legislation because he spent years in Isla Vista; he went to UCSB and lived on Sabado Tarde, the street where this week’s shooting occurred.
“Probably not a lot has changed since my time there,” Maienschein said, referring to the college town’s party culture and clutter of cars. “I am great at parallel parking now,” he quipped. Several students were among those who made the trip to Sacramento to voice support.
Other Isla Vistans were less enthused about the proposal. The fact that the creation of the CSD would not appear on the same ballot as approval of the tax was just one issue raised by longtime resident Pegeen Soutar. Iterating a point often stated, Soutar also argued the process should go through LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) — boards set up by the state to establish special districts — “so people don’t have to drive seven hours” to weigh in on state bills.
Some residents, including dozens of property owners, have expressed concerns or outright opposition, arguing the bill is incomplete. A financial feasibility study is still not complete, argued LAFCO executive director Paul Hood. LAFCO commissioners, excluding supervisors Doreen Farr and Janet Wolf, have not shied away from seriously criticizing AB 3 during several recent meetings.
On Wednesday, Farr, who traveled to Sacramento to voice her support, argued the bill offers the “best chance” that the community has had in a long time. Going through the State Legislature allows for a hybrid representation that LAFCO or the Board of Supervisors could not implement, she said. The representative board, according to recent amendments, would be made up of five elected and two appointed members — one by the county supervisors and another by the UCSB Chancellor.
Though the State Legislature designated LAFCO decades ago with the authority to establish special districts, the agency has done nothing to take care of the ever-present problem for 45 years, Williams argued. He asked, do we have the authority to take that back and act ourselves? “I think we do,” he said.
As currently written, the proposal engulfs UCSB within its boundaries. Exactly how that will play out remains to be seen, as public agencies are usually not subject to taxes. It’s been suggested that the school could enter a Memorandum of Understanding with the CSD and fork over an amount that would cover taxes for the residence halls but not labs and classrooms.
The bill must pass off the Assembly floor by June 5.