Isla Vista residents are officially poised to vote this November on whether or not to approve an 8 percent utility users tax to fund the formation of a Community Services District. What was once considered an unorthodox political football Assemblymember Das Williams threw long appears as though it could pass, capitalizing on the energy of the November election, when young, liberal I.V. voters turn out in droves.
The Local Agency Formation Commission — better known as LAFCO (pronounced laugh-co) — voted Thursday to place the creation of the special district on this fall’s ballot. In addition, there will be an election for five representatives (another two would be appointed) to sit on the board of the special district. Also on the ballot will be an 8 percent utility user tax — on trash, water, and other things — which would bring in an estimated half million dollars each year. Plus, UCSB pledged to chip in $200,000 for seven years. All that would fund additional amenities, including tenant-landlord mediation, additional police officers, building enforcement, and public works projects.
The formation of the special district requires a majority vote; for it to have money to pay for services, two-thirds of Isla Vista voters need to approve the tax.
The backstory is that LAFCO commissioners have for a year balked at the proposal, better known as AB 3, which Williams drafted, pushed through the state legislature, and managed to secure Governor Jerry Brown’s signature on last October. Traditionally, per state law, LAFCO commissioners hold authority to form special districts through a lengthy application process.
Attempts to use that process to establish special districts or full-blown cityhood in Isla Vista — widely reputed to be the most densely populated unincorporated area in the nation — have failed a number of times in past decades. In 2014, jumping on the momentum of coming togethers after a year of tumultuous gang rapes, riots, and mass murder, Williams and his supporters sought to circumvent the LAFCO process; so far, they have been successful.
On Thursday, Jeff Moorhouse, the most outspoken critic of AB 3, was the sole vote against placing the measure to form the special district on the ballot. The way the bill — now law — was written, LAFCO does not have the authority to stop the special district from being placed on the ballot. “If we voted against it, could we go to jail?” he asked. “Why are we voting?” Attorney for the county Bill Dillon explained the commission has a mandatory duty under state law to take this action, and that the commission could in fact face a judge — probably not jail time — if they denied the action.
Moorhouse also called UCSB to task, which committed a total of $1.4 million over seven years to the special district, should the voters approve it. Moorhouse dismissed the offer as “wet cement.” He also objected to the fact UCSB will have a say in how the money is spent.
“We don’t ever write a blank check,” said Kirsten Deshler, UCSB’s government relations representative. She explained the amount was reached by calculating an 8 percent tax on the seven university-owned properties falling inside of the special district.
Deshler added the university has a strong commitment to Isla Vista — to the tune of $2 million to $3 million dollars each year for lighting, public safety, etc. “We are not at all stepping away from our responsibility,” she said.
Commissioner and Goleta City Councilmember Roger Aceves — once a sharp critic of AB 3 — said he appreciated UCSB’s commitment and told the dozen or so supporters in the audience: “Your work is not done. You have a huge task ahead of you.”