A group of Isla Vistans with one opinion or another about the unique effort to form a special district through the State Legislature continue to bounce between local government meetings, squeezing out stamps of approval from both the Board of Supervisors and the City of Goleta on Tuesday. With deadlines looming in Sacramento, supporters look to secure as much local support as possible, with opponents right behind them.
AB 3, as I.V.’s self-governance bill is known, is the work of Assemblymember Das Williams. Among other stakeholders, he jumped at the opportunity to bring change to Isla Vista after last year’s riots and shooting rampage. At the time, a number of students had spent years studying the possibility of establishing a community service district (CSD) in the densely populated unincorporated area as a way to allow residents to create their own destiny, a hotly contested topic that dates back decades.
Isla Vista suffered a financial blow in 2012 after the state opted to dissolve the redevelopment agencies. In recent years, about $6 million had gone to beefing up Isla Vista in terms of landscape, sidewalks, and newer housing. In fact, the I.V. redevelopment agencies generated more than $40 million over the span of 22 years. In 2011, Assemblymember Das Williams strongly supported bills that killed redevelopment agencies, saying at the time if “he had a choice between schools and redevelopment agencies, I’m taking schools.” Supervisor Steve Lavagnino pointed that out during Tuesday’s hearing, reading from an old newspaper article.
For his part, Williams is still certain that was the right choice. The dissolution of redevelopment agencies benefited schools, counties, and other local governments, he said. “I didn’t believe that was fundamentally a fair system … counties were struggling to provide health care and other services.” Williams noted the county as a whole was a “winner” in redevelopment agency abolishment, but that money wasn’t funneled back into I.V.
It is often stated that the reason Williams — who is running for 1st District Supervisor in 2016, the year he terms out of the Assembly — has taken the lead on the issue by drafting special legislation is because he was able to mold the bill in ways other government agencies such as LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) could not. For instance, the measure states a mix of elected and appointed would sit on its seven-member board and that a utilities users tax (UUT) could be levied to ensure property owners and renters have equal skin in the game. The community services district would fashion parking district, graffiti abatement, tenant-landlord mediation, infrastructure, and community policing efforts.
Supporters claimed the bill is a fresh and clever way to achieve what has been all but impossible for decades. Opponents, many of them long-term residents, are increasingly perturbed that a study to find out how much tax money could be generated has not been completed. They emphasize most residents are students who leave town after three or four years. Outspoken conservative Andy Caldwell likened AB 3 to the Chumash taking Camp 4 annexation plans to Congress. “I don’t even think this thing is constitutional,” he said, making multiple references to anti-tax champion Howard Jarvis, who is responsible the 1978 property tax cap known as Prop. 13.
On Tuesday evenings at the I.V. Neighborhood Clinic building, two dozen or so people have argued over specific elements in the bill over the past half-year. The group also showed up to quite a few LAFCO meetings, asking the agency to hold off on taking a position on the bill until it was fully cooked. Most commissioners — Carpinteria Sanitary District’s Jeff Moorhouse, Goleta City Councilmember Roger Aceves, Goleta West Sanitary District’s Craig Geyer, and Solvang Mayor Jim Richardson — expressed distaste that the legislation did not include their board in the equation. LAFCO was set up by the state decades ago to study the intricacies of unincorporated communities and establish special districts, they argued.
Representing Isla Vista in the county, Supervisor Doreen Farr has consistently deviated from her fellow LAFCO commissioners and called AB 3 the best chance the town has at moving forward. Isla Vista is much bigger than the many other unincorporated areas in her district, the 3rd District supervisor said. “County government was not designed to also try to be city government,” Farr said Tuesday. “It is increasingly difficult to serve I.V. in the way it needs.” At a County Board of Supervisors meeting last October, Farr said that $30 million of programs and infrastructure have been pumped into I.V. from various sources since 2009.
Now, AB 3 is in the Appropriations Committee after it easily cleared its first hurdle out of the Assembly’s Local Government Committee. It must pass off the Assembly floor by June 5 before making its way to the Senate. Williams said he is optimistic.
The supervisors voted 3-2 to support the bill if it’s amended to shorten the amount of time between two ballot initiatives — from 10 years to six — that would be required to finance the CSD and get it up and running. The Goleta City Council also approved 3-2 a resolution to support AB 3.