State Senator Bob Hertzberg spent just over an hour this week in the modest downstairs room of the Isla Vista Clinic building, after taking a van ride through the college town. His visit — to “listen” and to “understand” the place — came two weeks after the state bill that could set up a community services district in Isla Vista passed out of the Senate committee that he chairs.
AB 3 is the political football Assemblymember Das Williams threw long last December. In its infancy, the bill intended to bring a stronger voice to residents living in the county’s so-called Wild West, but it specified few details about the services it could realistically support from tax revenues. During the past six months, a group of students and long-term residents met dozens of times to wrangle with each other over wonky details of the legislative language.
The spelled-out services were narrowed down to include a tenant-landlord mediation program, a graffiti abatement program, a planning commission, additional police services, and a parking district, among others. The bill must pass out of the Senate Appropriations Committee and off the Senate floor before reaching the governor’s desk. After that, a two-thirds vote of the residents would have to approve operation of the community services district — a board of seven members, five elected, and one appointed by the county and one by the university.
Hertzberg, a Democratic political heavyweight representing Los Angeles, first met Williams in the 1990s, when Williams was a staffer in the Assembly Democratic Caucus. At the time, Hertzberg was Speaker of the Assembly. This year, Hertzberg authored SB 8, a bill that would broaden state sales tax to include services such as accounting, engineering, or consulting.
Hertzberg made a point Wednesday to “advertise” for his own bill before the meeting ended. “[The] details aren’t important,” he said, but the measure would generate a revenue stream to the University of California. “If I am able to be successful … Santa Barbara would get a piece of it.”
One reason Williams sought to get Hertzberg on board with his bill is because Hertzberg coauthored a law — known as the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Act — that strengthened the power of Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCO), which are scattered through the state to form special districts in unincorporated areas. Hertzberg acknowledged that AB 3 would circumvent the law that carries his name. However, he said, “The large message is that one size doesn’t fit all.”
Chuck Eckert, chair of the Isla Vista Property Owners Association, vocally disagreed. He took issue with the process Williams’s office employed in slowing the drafting of the bill based on exhaustive community input. Skeptics were not made to feel welcome at those weekly meetings, Eckert argued, and only proponents attended. “What you see around this group is a genuine stakeholders group,” he said. During public comments, Eckert has opposed the bill unless it is revised to include full LAFCO consideration.
Per recent amendments to AB 3, commissioners would have 120 days to analyze the community service district and make a recommendation; they would not be able to kill the district. Williams said LAFCO should not be able to block the creation of a special district. He said, “…after 45 years, [people in Isla Vista] should have a chance to vote on their district.”
When asked in a separate interview if the property owner’s association would change its position on the bill, Eckert said he did not know. “Some things are quite troubling about it,” he went on. “As the bill is presently crafted, property owners are virtually excluded from being on the board. We want a provision in this bill that would have said anybody could be on the board [regardless of where they live].” He added, “ … You [would] still have to sell yourself to the voters.”
The prickly issue of university involvement in Isla Vista was brought up with some frustration. Jon Hedges, assistant pastor at St. Athanasius Orthodox Church, who arrived in Isla Vista in the 1970s during the “revolution,” charged that the university, among other entities, has always done things “ … to us, not for us.”
Representing the university, Assistant Vice Chancellor George Thurlow acted as the resident punching bag, sitting quietly as a few people pointed fingers at the school’s growth. Last fall, Chancellor Henry Yang appointed Thurlow, who is the head of alumni affairs, to be his special assistant on Isla Vista affairs after the town experienced a tumultuous school year of gang rapes, riots, and mass murder.
Whether or not the university would be included in the district’s boundaries was unknown for some time. Last month, after a meeting between Williams and university administrators, Williams cut the UCSB campus out of the boundaries. Should the district be established, the university will likely contribute some amount of resources.
Jay Freeman, an I.V. activist, noted the recent purchase of the three Tropicana properties, which potentially takes about $1 million in taxes out of the area’s revenue; UCSB is exempt from paying taxes to local government entities, including the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District, which receives about $1.36 million each year. It’s worth noting that the IVRPD would not consolidate with the community services district under AB 3.
Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents Isla Vista, has supported AB 3. Standing in the back of the room for the meeting, Farr noted that the County Auditor-Controller’s Office is studying the finances of Isla Vista. This fall, figures will be presented to the Board of Supervisors.
State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who has shied away from taking a position on the bill, was also in attendance. Sitting up front next to Williams, Jackson noted virtually all UC campuses have struggled with “town and gown” activities.
Her silence on the matter has been a point of interest as Williams and Jackson — often described as having a familial relationship — have collaborated on matters pertaining to Isla Vista, including sexual assault reform and gun control. “[We] share a lot of common values,” Jackson said in an interview after the meeting. “We don’t agree on everything, obviously.” She added, “He’s a surfer, and I’m a lawyer.”