Roughly the same time last October that a Santa Barbara City College student heaved a rock through the front window of Mark Taylor’s Oceano Street home, City College President Lori Gaskin convened a high-powered task force to address neighborhood concerns regarding unruly students living near campus. Taylor, not coincidentally, would emerge as one of the task force’s most outspoken members.
By last week’s final convocation of the group, which included high-ranking City Hall officials and campus deans, police had managed to identify the student. He’d been speeding down Oceano when an angry neighbor threatened to damage his silver Ford Focus. The student broke Taylor’s window under the mistaken belief that it was Taylor who’d threatened his car. He has since apologized and paid to have the window repaired; Taylor asked that charges not be filed. But sometime in the next two weeks, Taylor and the contrite rock-heaver will meet together with City College Dean of Students Ben Partee for what the dean calls a “heart-to-heart” to determine what discipline should be meted out.
The tidy symmetry suggested by this incident gives an exaggerated sense of resolution where campus-neighborhood tensions are concerned. But last week’s task force confab outlined a list of actions which, if taken, promise to reduce the aggravation. The quickest fix requires the Santa Barbara City Council to adopt a new noise ordinance so the City Attorney can levy stiff civil penalties against offenders. As currently written, the noise ordinance is enforced criminally by the District Attorney’s office.
Front-line enforcement would be delegated to a crew of City College students hired, trained, and supervised by the Police Department. They would give warnings only, and if follow-up visits proved necessary, cops would issue citations. This approach has been used at Cal Poly with dramatic results, according to task force members who visited there recently. As proposed, City College would pay the start-up costs for hiring the neighborhood patrols. After that, the program would be sustained through the fines collected.
Another proposal involves how classes are scheduled at City College. Traditionally, the majority of academic courses are held Mondays through Thursdays; Fridays are widely avoided by both students and instructors. As a result, students typically begin their weekend revelries on Thursday nights. Noise and parties top the list of neighborhood complaints. In 2014, police were called to the block of Oceano Street where Mark Taylor lives no fewer than 241 times. Similar problems have plagued La Breza apartment complex on the lower Westside. Partee pledged this spring to begin scheduling classes required for graduation or transfer on Fridays and Saturdays. This would also open desperately needed classroom space, he said.
Partee reported that Gaskin has asked Police Chief Cam Sanchez to provide the college with the names of all students under the age of 21 cited for relatively minor drunk and disorderly offenses. Partee said the Isla Vista Foot Patrol has been doing this for the past four years. As a result, Partee said, he sends out 10-15 letters a month notifying parents of such transgressions. Police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood said he needs to address any privacy issues before engaging in a wholesale data swap with school administrators.
Partee said City College notified 566 students last year they’d failed to meet minimal requirements to remain enrolled. These are students pulling less than a 2.0 average or who have dropped more than half their classes. Some, he said, have experienced a death in the family or serious health problems. Exceptions are allowed in such cases, but only after an appeals hearing; 150 such appeals are currently scheduled. “What we find,” he concluded, “is that many of the people who do not perform well are the same ones who cause problems throughout the community.”
Task Force member Beebe Longstreet expressed serious skepticism about such resolve and said she’s giving the college two months before passing any judgment on its commitment to change. That, coincidentally, is roughly the same time within which the task force has recommended that SBCC’s Board of Trustees conduct a joint meeting with City Council to explore a range of long-term “save the world” issues involving traffic, parking, and housing problems. Gaskin, who spoke briefly at the first meeting, showed up for the last one, as well. She thanked the task force members for their courage and commitment, vowing, “Your work here will not be in vain, I can assure you.”