An urban legend gives Isla Vista the dubious distinction of being the most densely populated area west of the Mississippi – suggesting that a 2.2-square-mile plot of unincorporated Santa Barbara County land is more overcrowded than Compton or San Francisco. The rumor is false, but the fact that people believe it helps explain why I.V. presents such a challenge for the approximately 18,400 people who live there.
Adequate parking, uncongested roadways, and housing for people of varying income levels were among the concerns that drew together such entities as the I.V. Project Area Committee/General Plan Advisory Committee (PAC/GPAC), UCSB, the I.V. Recreation and Parks District (IVRPD), and several neighborhood organizations in 2000. The PAC/GPAC presented the groups’ proposals for community improvement to the Redevelopment Agency, which was established by the county Board of Supervisors in 1990. Seven years’ worth of meetings after PAC/GPAC’s original presentation, the Redevelopment Agency is close to finalizing an I.V. Master Plan which, according to its proponents, compiles these findings to represent the community’s best chance of reinventing itself and improving its residents’ lives.
The first of three hearings on the Master Plan was held on March 7, allowing the public to give feedback to the Redevelopment Agency before the plan is taken to the Board of Supervisors for approval. Jamie Goldstein, Redevelopment Agency deputy director, said he was proud of the efforts made so far. “This is the most progressive plan the county has ever put together : . There’s not ever been as serious a look into such a relatively small area before,” he said of the document, which includes plans to turn I.V.’s central Pardall Road area into a “downtown” district with more commercial space.
According to Goldstein, outside input during the development of the plan yielded both positive and negative changes. As one example of the latter, he mentioned that the plan at one point included recommendations for a parking permit plan designed to discourage non-resident traffic, but the California Coastal Commission nixed it in November 2006 on the grounds that UCSB and the county should not place the burden of the parking problem on the shoulders of I.V. residents. On the other hand, Goldstein explained that an idea to use roundabouts to ease traffic on El Colegio Road-one of the main arteries into campus-was ditched in favor of widening the road to five lanes, with a center median lined with oak trees.
Many criticisms lobbed against the plan at the March 7 meeting revolved around the prospect of creating housing units for an additional 4,300 I.V. residents. “The biggest issues have to do with land use,” Goldstein said. “People are concerned with changes in population density.” Indeed, the meeting gave rise to concerns that are older than talk of a Master Plan. “You can’t add more population than the services can accommodate,” said Florence Klein, an I.V. resident since 1998. “They need to acknowledge our biggest problems are safety regarding fire and police, then traffic and the lack of parking, and the density of the population that is already here.” Klein, who attended the meeting bearing fragments of her dynamite-exploded mailbox, said she felt police and rescue services were already overtaxed moderating drunken student revelry. Goldstein explained new residences were a necessary trade-off the Master Plan included to meet county mandates for affordable housing.
Other meeting attendees-mostly business owners and longtime non-student I.V. residents-worried that redevelopment could hurt business and that restructuring I.V.’s central Anisq’Oyo Park could ruin a sense of historic preservation. Goldstein said some opposition was expected but maintained that the plan represents I.V.’s best hope for improvement. He also pointed out that only three of the speakers at the meeting spoke in favor of halting the plan altogether.
Ken Warfield, an IVRPD boardmember, defended the process that led to the Master Plan, saying, “Everybody who has had something to say about this has had ample opportunity to say it. : I.V. is going to change. It’s going to be built out and a number of additional people will live in I.V. How that growth and change is going to happen really needs a Master Plan so that it doesn’t become hodgepodge higgledy-piggledy nonsense that other communities have experienced.”
Klein remained unconvinced, noting that she and others will express their dismay at the next meeting on March 19, in the county’s Planning Commission Hearing Room. “We don’t know anybody here who’s really for this,” she said. “It’s madness in the name of greed.”