I fell in love with Santa Barbara City College students after I had begun the Ambassador Program at a property in Isla Vista three years ago. This was a program where — if you had a 3.0 GPA or better and volunteered for 60 or more hours of local community work inside Isla Vista — I would give the student a 20 percent discount in rent, about $160 per month. In our first year we had over140 Ambassadors and 10 board members; eight of these board members turned out to be SBCC students.
At first, I was skeptical because I had always doubted the sincerity of City College students living in I.V. My logic, as most landlords’, was why would a CC student want to live 12 miles from their campus unless it was for the I.V. party scene? In short, I was very surprised by how dedicated the CC students were to the Ambassador Program. Perhaps they needed the discount more than most of the UCSB students, but that endeared us even more to the SBCC students. My wife and I became close to many of our students in the program, and it became obvious to both of us that most of the CC students only lived in Isla Vista because of no available downtown rentals close to their campus.
It also became obvious that SBCC students are somewhat outcasts in Isla Vista, and by this I mean that unless you are a UCSB student, you cannot use any of the facilities such as the gym, swimming pools, libraries, study halls, tennis courts, etc. But the biggest problem in our minds was the commute to SBCC! In our minds, CC students are practically set up for failure if they live in Isla Vista. Imagine having an 18- to 21-year-old student away from their home for the very first time having to get out the door at 7:30 a.m. to be in a 9 a.m. class, with the odds that same student’s next class starts several hours later — thus having really no choice but to hang around campus for hours until their next class begins because it makes no sense to travel the 12 miles back to I.V. by bus and then back again to SBCC. It’s absolutely absurd! But this is now the reality for SBCC students living in Isla Vista.
When Harbor Heights (now Beach City) became for sale, my wife and I envisioned the opportunity to build a world-class student housing community worthy of SBCC and the Santa Barbara community. I saw an opportunity to bring SBCC students literally to their campus and have built-in amenities and programs to help support their academic and social lives. Our proposed community would have a 24-hour gym, 24-hour study hall, 24-hour café, 24-hour theater, 24-hour minimart and cafeteria — all exclusively for our tenants right next door to their school. We would also encourage community involvement. Because students would be located right next to school, I would not allow any tenants to own a car anywhere on the South Coast, on penalty of immediate termination of lease, reducing local traffic immensely.
I had really expected the Mesa community to embrace this project as any student or parent of that student would be given a choice of living in a well-managed facility with amenities and programs next to SBCC among hundreds of others their own age or live in a single-family residence with six or seven other students completely unsupervised among families not their own age. The choice is obvious. Playa Mariposa will not increase the number of students at SBCC. It will bring them closer to campus and outside of residential neighborhoods. It would lead the Mesa away from becoming more like I.V.
I was not prepared for the reaction from a few community members, and so I have decided to place a hold on the development of Playa Mariposa. This will give me the opportunity to reach out to community groups and members, and find real and viable solutions to the housing problem facing SBCC and the surrounding neighborhoods.
I would venture to say that many people now residing in Santa Barbara moved to this community to attend college, then figured out a way to stay. What a great way to build up a community! And for the SBCC naysayers who constantly criticize the school and applaud decreasing enrollment, please remember most SBCC enrollment is from local residents. This is a remarkably high proportion for any community college. It’s time for the community and SBCC to come together and work to find solutions to these important issues.