Don’t Discount Isla Vista
Why the City of Goleta Doesn't Include I.V.
Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “The victors write the history.” Now, unlike Churchill’s time, history is being constantly rewritten or reinvented by online bloggers, blowhards, and bilious lurkers who are uninformed at best and biased at worst. They possess all the credibility of snake oil sellers and Ponzi schemers.
Goleta has been the recipient of such revisionism since cityhood, so you’d think we’d be used to it by now. But two recent assertions by faux historians really need to be tested against the facts. The first is that Goleta Now!, the group that led Goleta to cityhood, excluded Isla Vista (I.V.) from the City of Goleta proposal solely for economic reasons. This assertion is premised on the second equally false notion that I.V. is a stagnant, sordid pesthole grossly needing expensive infrastructure. Both assertions are as sound a blob of jello on the San Andreas Fault.
The primary reason Goleta Now! did not include I.V. was that polled Goleta residents said they’d vote against cityhood if Isla Vista were included. Previous cityhood proposals that included I.V. had either failed to get on the ballot or lost at the polls several times before.
I experienced that opposition firsthand when helping gather Goleta cityhood petition signatures. Many Goleta residents I met expressed fear that a majority of students would be elected to Goleta’s city council. Others feared the potential influence of I.V. students, mostly renters, on local decisions such as imposing taxes on Goleta property owners. It was clear to everyone involved that had I.V. been included in the Goleta Now! proposal, we wouldn’t gather enough signatures to even get cityhood on the ballot.
It is also worth noting that during the Goleta Now! push for cityhood, there was little or no push from I.V. residents to be included in Goleta cityhood boundaries. To my knowledge, no one contacted Goleta Now! leaders asking for I.V. to be included before or while cityhood petition signatures were being gathered. Only at the final step, when the proposal had reached Santa Barbara’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) did a small group of I.V. residents ask for the townlet to be included.
The contention that Goleta Now! excluded Isla Vista from the cityhood proposal for economic reasons is easily rebutted — if one has an open mind and a grasp of Civics 101 and simple arithmetic. It’s true that I.V. does not have massive shopping malls or hotels to generate sales tax and transient occupancy tax revenue. However, I.V. does have several major revenue sources, including residential and commercial property taxes, plus sales taxes from bookstores, restaurants, and other retail services located in I.V. and on UCSB’s campus. And there are other substantial fund sources, including UCSB funding and government grants such as Community Development Block Grants.
Santa Barbara County taps its general fund to provide key services mandated by state law. If I.V. had been included in Goleta cityhood, the revenue neutrality agreement between Goleta and the county would have had to take into account I.V.’s state-mandated financial needs. Had I.V. been included in Goleta’s boundaries and its revenue found to be insufficient, maybe the revenue neutrality agreement currently requiring Goleta to share its sales tax revenue with S.B. County would have been the other way around.
To rebut the second falsehood, that I.V. is rundown and lacking infrastructure, one need only pay a visit to the seaside town. Visual proof abounds that I.V. is a vital and vibrant community, with recent upgrades from significant county investment in services and infrastructure. The last few years has seen a special focus on creating and improving pedestrian walkways throughout I.V. Some of the recently completed projects include the Pardall corridor improvements, El Embarcadero utility undergrounding and streetscape improvements, and sidewalk projects along Sabado Tarde, Del Playa, and other roads in the Loop area.
Here’s what a little research shows. In its 22 years before dissolution by state legislation, the (state funded) Isla Vista Regional Development Agency (RDA) generated over $40 million in revenue to fund projects, infrastructure investment, and affordable housing. The county and special districts provided funding for roads, sidewalks, water, street lighting, parks and recreation, fire protection, and sanitary services. Since investing over $600,000 in I.V.’s Street LED Lighting Project, over 150 street lights have been retrofitted throughout I.V., with 39 more light poles to be installed this year.
Resisting California’s direction to sell off RDA funded assets, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr successfully lobbied the state to retain I.V.’s clinic building, a church, and a solar parking lot assets for I.V.’s continued use. Plus the county made numerous beach access upgrades including repair of the Camino Majorca stairway. And it supported the Pardall Tree Project resulting in planting over a hundred trees.
The county has also upgraded ordinances and services. For example, it updated the Tenant’s Rights Ordinance that expanded relocation assistance to tenants displaced as a result of the demolition or rehabilitation of rental units or a change to a nonresidential use. And it improved circulation by promoting a Zipcar Ride Share program. It also worked with the Metropolitan Transit District to provide more bus stops and reroute the shuttle system, resulting in a 260 percent ridership increase.
All the while, S.B. County provides important social and public safety services associated with custody, courts, district attorney, public defender, probation, mental and public health services, elections, and so on. Specific to Isla Vista, the I.V. Foot Patrol is a joint effort by the Sheriff’s Office and UC Police, nearly $4 million provided by the county for Sheriff services.
As Yogi Berra might have said in the Roman forum “Id imperfectum manet dum confectum erit.” (“It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”) I.V. residents will probably continue to explore options for increased local control. Such a pursuit should not be framed by misstatements of history or a false and negative picture of I.V.’s current state of affairs. Instead, Isla Vista’s self-determination should be shaped by an accurate historical view and a vision of how more local control could take this already energetic, vibrant community to even greater heights.