Bringing the Light to Isla Vista

Empowering Residents, Business Owners, and More

Sometimes it’s hard for the people closest to an issue to maintain perspective, especially in Isla Vista. Even if you love the area, the energy and the proximity to the beach, you can be beaten down, little by little, by the number of challenging and seemingly insolvable problems.

Cat Neushul

While it would be easy to give up, however, there might be some positive change on the horizon. The events that have made Isla Vista synonymous with violence and tragedy have also catalyzed offers of help from those who have a special place in their hearts for the area. Activists and successful business people who have a unique perspective, and are willing to attack the problems with reasonable and easily-implemented solutions, have appeared to offer their expertise.

Eric Hutchins is one of these people. He is a former UC Santa Barbara student who lived in Isla Vista in the 1960s and credits this environment, and a mentor, as giving him an invaluable education. “I wanted to give back to the community that had given me a start,” he said.

Hutchins, and a group of like-minded people formed an organization called the Committee for a New Isla Vista after a Town Hall meeting on June 5. The group of 15 people meet on a regular basis and invite county representatives, members of the police force, representatives from the university, business owners, and many other interested parties to take part in discussions. For ease, the committee has identified shareholders as being members of six main groups:

• UCSB-Isla Vista residents

• Property owners

• Business owners

• Special service districts

• County government

• The administrators, faculty, and students of UCSB and Santa Barbara City College (SBCC)

Unique Challenges

One of the things discussed at the first Town Hall meeting was the possibility of self-governance. While an attractive option, Hutchins pointed out that the first step needs to be to empower the community so that there are many people ready to step into leadership roles.

The Committee for a New Isla Vista has put out a 10-point-plan that outlines a way to prepare people to become effective community leaders. It describes a two-tiered training program in which participants would work on developing particular qualities, such as unconditional empathy, compassion, generosity toward others, unlimited creativity, intelligence, and wisdom. The plan states that “research strongly suggests that when as few as 1-2 percent of a community begins to express significantly more of these qualities, scientifically measurable reductions in violence and increases in community well-being take place.” The second tier involves training participants to be effective leaders with the ability to communicate in written and public forums, build a consensus, develop resources, and so on “The goal is strong, continuous, indigenous leadership,” Hutchins said.

The key to all this, however, is support from UCSB and SBCC through financial investment in the training program and by offering students academic credit for participation. The committee states in its 10-point plan: “We refer to our community as ‘UCSB-Isla Vista’ for a number of reasons … to remind the University administration that their narrower self-interests (and responsibilities are inextricably tied to the WHOLE community …) ”

Another important component of this plan is that Santa Barbara County contributes the renovation and use of the buildings at 970-976 Embarcadero Del Mar as a place to administer the training program. People of all ages who are interested in participating are welcome to the training program. “Isla Vista could be a wonderful training place for life, instead of a place that people can’t wait to get away from,” Hutchins added.

The Next Steps

On Tuesday, October 7, the next Town Hall Meeting on “Political Self-Government,” sponsored by UCSB Associated Students, will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at St. Mark’s University Parrish, 6550 Picasso Road, Isla Vista.

“Here’s the plan, to get I.V. up and running and a better place starting in the fall,” Hutchins said. “This is an ideal place to bring light,” he said.


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