The grand plan to give Isla Vista a facelift – and more residents – took a huge step forward on Wednesday, May 23, with the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission deciding to pass the I.V. Master Plan ahead to the Board of Supervisors for perusal and discussion at a future meeting. Jamie Goldstein, Deputy Director of the I.V. Master Plan, said he was pleased with the day’s proceedings. “This has just been such a long process, with so time and effort going into this. To see it take this step is great.”
The planning commissioners gave a thumbs-up to the plan as is, meaning additional housing units that would accommodate thousands of new residents, mixed-use multi-story commercial-residential combo buildings on the Pardall Road corridor, a new focus on Anisq’ Oyo’ Park as a “town center,” aesthetically pleasing facades on storefronts and other changes.
Collectively, the plan has some I.V. residents in a tizzy and others wholeheartedly excited about a new look to their corner of Santa Barbara County. Janet Stitch – an I.V. resident who represented her neighbors on the I.V. Project Area Committee, which helped develop the Master Plan – said she felt the plan offered the best the way for the various sectors of I.V. life to move forward. “What he hear is ‘more, more, more.’ But what we want is less, less, less,” Stitch said. “However, I vote to support the Master Plan. It’s a good compromise.”
Some longtime Master Plan naysayers nevertheless seemed pleased with the Planning Commission’s decision to pass the plan onto the County Supervisors with the stipulation that it must include incentives for “green” construction. Exactly what those incentives will be is yet unclear, but ideas proposed at the meeting include, for example, a provision allowing projects attaining “platinum”-level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification to be built at higher densities than others, and even receive grants for their efforts. “My concern would be sharp developers meeting with not-so-sharp county staff. And then the county gets screwed,” said Planning Commission member Daniel Blough of the necessity for such measures to offset major developments with investments back into the community at large.
Another aspect of the plan that will be altered before it goes before the Board of Supervisors is the elimination of a bottleneck on El Colegio Road – one of the main arteries for vehicular traffic heading into I.V. and UCSB – that would have shifted the road from five lanes to two and then back to five again. Instead, the revamped El Colegio will have two lanes headed in both directions for its entire stretch, with a fifth turn lane and median in the middle.
Wednesday’s meeting began with those who have helped guide the I.V. Master Plan – itself the product of countless meetings among members of the I. V. Project Area Committee – answering questions from the Planning Commission. Regarding how the additional housing units would affect population density, Master Plan senior project manager Lisa Brownfield said she thought the rise would not be nearly as dramatic as statistics might make it seem. As Brownfield put it, though the most densely populated areas in I.V. would experience a 50 percent rise – from 20 units per acre to 30 – the increase is square feet of development would only be around 25 percent, as the average I.V. living unit is smaller and features more bedrooms than those that people living in other parts of Santa Barbara might be accustomed to. Thus, as those pushing the Master Plan put it, fitting so many new people would not necessarily eat up the amount of open space some feared it might.
The long-awaited plan, which was initially scheduled to be approved or nixed at a meeting on April 23, waited a full month for the entire Planning Commission to jointly convene and discuss it. In light of the fact that the plan first began forming a full seven years ago, the 30-day wait seems like only a drop in the bucket, however. “This is the fourth meeting [with the Planning Commission],” said Richard Watts, who spoke on behalf of UCSB’s long range planning and development department. “I don’t know what your record is, but I want to thank you for your diligence,” he joked.
The plan could go to the Board of Supervisors as early as August.