In honor of the new year, I decided to take a moment to look around Isla Vista and count the things everyone has to be grateful for. It’s a particularly nice time to experience the beauty of the place, with the streets empty, the parties nonexistent, and the students gone, gone, gone. Of course, they will come back, but for now, the area is quiet and peaceful. The sound of sirens and distant screaming is just an unpleasant memory.
First of all, I.V. residents can be grateful for the lovely new look of El Colegio Road. Driving down the street is now a pleasure. The street is wider and more attractive. Even the sidewalks and bike paths have taken on a new luster. You can run down the beautifully landscaped paths, or ride without worrying about uneven pavements and other such difficulties. There is even a native plant restoration area on the corner of Los Carneros Road and El Colegio that will be a sight to be seen as it becomes more established. Who knew that a new road could change things so much? No longer will visitors to I.V. get the idea that it is a neglected and abused town. The first view will be one of a well-manicured area. I’m not one to praise superficial beauty, but I think that in I.V there is a fine balance between “keeping it real”—or retaining what makes I.V. special—and letting the squalor obscure the beauty.
Now when people come into I.V. their first impression will be a good one. They may be less likely to come into it with the idea that it is an area to trash and party in. One can only hope.
There have been some smaller changes that also affect the overall feel of the area. There are new interpretive signs at the entrances to the footpaths into the Camino Corto Open Space. Previously, students and visitors could easily walk through without reading the dedications on the stones at the entrances, or appreciating what an abundance of wildlife and plant life can be found there. By the way, right now is a great time to see ducks and geese galore enjoying the wetland ponds after a week of rainfall.
The trees that border the Camino Corto Open Space have also gotten a well-needed trim. Recently, I.V. Recreation and Park District representatives cut back the low-lying branches. The area looks wonderful, but there is another benefit as well, which is that homeless and transient people will find it more difficult to set up camp in the trees. In the past, it has been a common occurrence to find people camping out and barbecuing their food in the shelter of those trees. There are many reasons why this could be disastrous. For one, there is the danger that a fire could get out of control. The proximity to Isla Vista elementary school also makes it prudent to discourage camping out under the trees.
Downtown Isla Vista has already seen many changes. There is a solar parking lot on Pardall Road, and the Isla Vista Food Co-op has gotten a makeover. The co-op’s snazzy new look makes it an even more pleasant place to sit and have lunch or a snack. The streets off Pardall also have new sidewalks and light fixtures that give the neighborhood a sleeker, less grungy look. While change often meets with resistance, I think the improvements to downtown I.V. have only been positive.
But more improvements are needed. The empty lot next to Giovanni’s on Pardall is now just a big muddy hole surrounded by chain link fence. It’s a definite eyesore. As the rest of I.V. improves, the icky parts start to stand out more prominently. This can be an incentive for everyone in the area to keep up with the Joneses.
Quite a few of the older, more decrepit apartment buildings in I.V have gotten makeovers, making them more desirable and attractive. There is a direct correlation between how nice an apartment building or house looks, and how the occupants treat their surroundings. You are less likely to trash something that is well maintained.
One of the most important ways the area can still be improved is by solving the trash problem that comes up again, and again, and again. If you walk through the Camino Corto Open Space you can see trash lining the rows of trees. It is upsetting to see this evidence of where the trash left on the streets of I.V. ends up. In some cases, as with one local household of students, the residents don’t have trash service. After weeks of seeing the trash bags pile up in the front yard, someone called a county representative and the residents were signed up for trash service. It’s always surprising to me when sorting out a way to dispose of their trash isn’t one of the first things I.V. residents want to do.
As I get prepared for the new year, I’m focusing on the good things that have happened in I.V. this past year and looking forward to even greater things in the future.