Pegeen Soutar has lived in Isla Vista for 34 years, and she’s keenly attuned to its delights and its dangers – the constant sound of the surf pounding the shore, and the screams of people in distress late at night.
Like so many others in this community of 15,000, most of them students, Soutar was shocked by the terrible events of the winter and spring of 2014. In February that year, a student was allegedly gang-raped on campus, near the Isla Vista boundary. In April, the Deltopia street festival, an unsanctioned Isla Vista event, erupted in an ugly riot. And in May, a deranged young man went on a killing spree, murdering six UCSB students, including his roommates.
Nearly two years later, Isla Vista’s a bit safer, said Soutar, a longtime parks director here. The last Deltopia was mellow, she said, and so was Halloween, formerly a holiday for mayhem. In the fall, the community’s notorious party scene seemed quieter, too.
“We’re still getting rapes, and fights where people are getting seriously hurt, and people falling off the cliffs,” Soutar said, “but I’m hopeful. I feel like there’s headway being made with the property owners, the university and the students themselves.”
During Deltopia 2015, The Warm Up concert at UCSB drew students away from Isla Vista: the concert is slated for April 2 this year. Again, a vigorous campaign on social media is underway to discourage out-of-towners from visiting the area that weekend. Parking will be restricted, beaches access will be closed and 200 law enforcement officers will be on patrol.
There’s a sense that the culture of Isla Vista is shifting, and it goes beyond Deltopia. Better street lighting, extra policing, more landlord accountability, stiffer campus sanctions and a resurgence of community activism all play a role, leaders say.
Perhaps nowhere else in the county are so many groups coming together to make a difference, said George Thurlow, UCSB’s liaison to the community.
“It’s hard to keep up with all the meetings going on to improve Isla Vista, almost seven days a week,” he said. “It’s all about taking one step at a time.”
Data from the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, a substation of the county Sheriff’s Department, show a 25 percent drop in reports of serious crime in 2015 and a 20 percent drop in crime overall, compared to 2013. Violent crimes spiked in 2014, then dropped last year below 2013 levels. Burglaries and thefts have declined steadily. Reports of drug abuse violations and drunkenness have dropped by a third.
“I came here in the summer of 2013 and it was just ‘crazytown’ – nonstop partying and in some cases, lawlessness,” said Lt. Rob Plastino, who heads the Foot Patrol. “From the ashes of tragedy, we’ve really seen a great effort to change.”
Deputies say they no longer encounter adult men, non-students, running de facto nightclubs on Del Playa Drive, a main thoroughfare at the edge of the ocean bluffs. There are fewer mega-parties, fewer crowds on the roofs, and the loud music stops at midnight more often on weekends, deputies say. Residents say they see fewer out-of-town revelers spending the night in their cars, parked on neighborhood streets.
It’s been awhile since deputies have seen a fraternity use extension ladders to sneak young women into their upstairs bedrooms. In 2014 and 2015, UCSB shut down four fraternities and suspended another for two years in response to reports of rape, hazing and stabbings at their Isla Vista chapter houses.
“I think public safety is better for sure: it’s much harder to throw parties than it was three years ago,” said Ashcon Minoiefar, a UCSB junior who serves as a senator with Associated Students, the UCSB student government.
“We’re not fixing any new problems,” he said, noting that the Del Playa party scene has been around for decades. “Only now, people are seeming to care a bit. It’s that IV is finally getting the attention it needed.”
An estimated 9,300 UCSB students and 3,500 Santa Barbara City College students live in Isla Vista. Foot Patrol data from the 2015 fall orientation period, Aug. 21 to October 26, shows that of 508 arrests and citations on weekend nights, 112 of those charged were UCSB students, 110 were from City College, 19 were from EF International Language Center Santa Barbara, three were from Westmont College, and 56 were from other colleges, mostly in California. The remaining 208 violations were not linked to students: often, they do not carry school IDs or tell officers where they are attending school.
IV Safe, a multi-agency group formed by county District Attorney Joyce Dudley, has been coordinating efforts to rebrand Isla Vista. And in a bid for self-governance, a number of residents, including Minoiefar, helped draft a ballot measure for a community services district in Isla Vista with taxation powers. Among the proposed new services are community patrols of student “cadets” who would work hand-in-hand with the Foot Patrol. Voters will decide on the measure in November.
“Isla Vista is a city without being a city,” said county Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the unincorporated community. “The momentum has built in a very positive way. We’re becoming more optimistic that we are starting to see the results of so many different efforts.”
Plastino shares that optimism, even as he dispatches 20 deputies and UCSB police into the streets on weekend nights. (Another 10 UCSB police go out separately on patrol.) For one thing, last year’s fall orientation period, normally a rough-and-tumble time of year for law enforcement, was comparatively calm, requiring less overtime pay, Plastino said.
The data show that Foot Patrol arrests and citations on weekend nights in Isla Vista dropped 35 percent during Fall Orientation 2015, compared to the same period in 2014. Arrests for being drunk in public and resisting arrest dropped by about half, and citations for loud music were sharply down, too.
“This past fall, we saw a significant change in the number of arrests,” Plastino said. “We have had a phenomenal drop. But until we get through at least another year of stability, I can’t say we’ve solved the problem. We can’t lose steam.”
This winter, the weekend party scene on Del Playa and Sabado Tarde Road has turned rowdy again. In one of its weekly reports to landlords, the Foot Patrol described a large fight and an alcohol overdose at 6678 Del Playa on Jan. 23, with 1,000 people on and around the property. Officers had to clear the streets to get an ambulance through.
On Jan. 29, the report shows, the party host at 6626 Del Playa told deputies he’d been punched in the face nine times by someone he refused to let in. On Jan. 30, deputies were allegedly spat on as they tried to break up a fight at a party of more than 150 people at 6610 Del Playa. And at 6730 Sabado Tarde, with 500 partyers in attendance, some of them on the roof of the garage next door, deputies arrested four people on charges of fighting and being drunk in public.
“Isla Vista at night has magical charm, but it can also feel like a beautiful nightmare,” said Bryan Lares, a resident and UCSB senior, drawing an analogy to the story of Pinocchio, a good boy who is lured into trouble by wicked “friends.” “I’m actually scared if I’m walking home alone. I don’t want to get jumped.”
Reports of brawls, bottle-throwing, injuries, loud music and rooftop crowds continued into February. On Feb. 12, after a crowd broke a fence at 6709 Del Playa by dancing on it, the Foot Patrol reported shutting down the party as people chanted, “F* the Police!”
Peter Neushul of Isla Vista, the landlord for the party house at 6610 Del Playa, said that on the advice of the Foot Patrol, he changed the lease to prohibit DJs and loud bands and more than 70 guests.
“Personally, I think any UCSB or SBCC student arrested and convicted of a crime in IV needs to take a forced leave of absence,” Neushul said. “If IV remains a Wild West zone, people are going to continue getting hurt and the university’s reputation will suffer.”
In response to a public records request, UCSB and City College recently released data on student discipline from September, 2013 to June, 2015. The data show that only one UCSB student and no City College students were expelled during that time. Twenty-seven UCSB students were suspended for “non-academic conduct code violations” on- and off-campus during the 2014-15 school year, up from 20 the year before. Ten City College students were suspended in 2014-15, up from six the previous year.
In all, UCSB reported 170 conduct code violations in 2014-15, including 41 for hazing, up from 109 violations the year before. Sanctions included disciplinary probation, written reprimands and loss of privileges. Most frequently, offenders were referred to drug and alcohol programs.
At the same time, the data suggest that drug and alcohol charges against UCSB students in Isla Vista are declining. During 2014-15, the university sent 297 “letters of concern” to parents and students regarding drug and alcohol charges in Isla Vista. That represented a drop of 30 percent, compared to the previous year.
At City College during the past two years, administrators reported holding 277 meetings with students who were cited or arrested on the South Coast, including Isla Vista. They sent out 162 letters to parents and students regarding underage drinking charges.
“I don’t see a lot of repeat offenders,” said Ben Partee, a City College dean who said he’s visited Isla Vista dozens of times in recent years in response to complaints. “I think students are starting to understand that this office takes action, and there are certain standards we expect of them.”
On a relatively quiet Friday night in February, the Foot Patrol made its rounds, as usual, in groups of three on foot, taking notes on potential lease violations. One team broke up a few drunken fights, entered a few open parties and issued a few citations. On two such occasions, the party crowds voluntarily filed out.
The deputies told students they cited that Isla Vista was a “zero tolerance” community in matters of underage drinking. Later, they checked in on a home invasion and robbery that UCSB police were handling. They stopped to talk with a homeless couple to make sure the woman was safe. They lectured an Uber driver about seat belts and ordered four cramped passengers out of his back seat. From a balcony, a young woman told the team that she thought someone getting into a car was about to drive drunk. The deputies checked him out and sent him on his way. On Del Playa, a Sheriff’s sergeant got hugs from several young women who thanked him for his past assistance.
“The student population out here really cares about where they live and where they go to school, and they don’t want to jeopardize that,” Plastino said.
Yes, Soutar said – but for how long?
“The collective memory is so short,” she said. “It’s such a transient community that I worry that people who will be there will forget how frightening it was with the Deltopia riot and the murders. Everybody was shaken.”
What’s in the Works for IV?
Below are a dozen of the many projects pending or proposed for Isla Vista.
The Warm Up: For the second year in a row, UCSB Associated Students will sponsor a concert on campus in early April at the Events Center, or Thunderdome, to draw crowds away from Deltopia, Isla Vista’s unsanctioned spring street festival. Admission is for UCSB students only, and tickets will be $5. The concert will not be funded with taxpayer money.
UCIV: During the last Deltopia and Halloween, Associated Students sent out 130 volunteers to inform Isla Vistans about county ordinances governing DJs and amplified music and provide safe spaces and water stations. Beginning in early April, the organization is proposing to send out volunteers every Friday and Saturday night in Isla Vista.
IV Family Resource Fair: An event to connect families with educational resources such as tutoring, help with school supplies and the mobile librarian will be held on April 9 at Estero Park. It will be sponsored by the IV Youth Program, IV Foot Patrol, IV Youth Center and Associated Students.
The Isla Vista Conference: The Beloved Community. A conference will be held this spring to remember the victims of the May 23, 2014 murders and bring residents together to celebrate what the community has accomplished since then. The event sponsored by Associated Students is tentatively set for May 21 and 22 on campus and in Isla Vista. Dr. Martin Luther King popularized the term “beloved community,” defining it as a global vision for all people sharing in the wealth of the earth.
Lease changes for tenants: A four-page-long lease addendum with hefty penalty fees for violations is under review by representatives of UCSB Housing Office, SBCC, Isla Vista Foot Patrol, Associated Students, graduate students and Isla Vista property owners to help willing landlords regulate tenant behavior. A recent draft bans live bands and amplified instruments at all times, prohibits household guests during Halloween or other large events such as Deltopia; requires renters to pay a minimum $500 in damages for bringing kegs or drug paraphernalia onto the premises, and asks that quiet be observed between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m. daily. It prohibits climbing onto the roof and requires renters to pay a $100 fee per person for violations.
Self-governance: A measure on the ballot in November this year would create a community services district in Isla Vista with taxation powers. A utility tax and a district board of five candidates who are residents will be on the ballot, too. The county and UCSB would each have one appointed seat on the board. Supporters estimate that an 8 percent tax on property owners and renters would generate $512,000 yearly for new services – a parking program, tenant mediation board, community policing program, municipal advisory council, area planning commission and graffiti removal. The university has pledged to provide $200,000 yearly for the first seven years of district operations.
New community center: The county will provide $483,000 to help renovate a 4,000-square-foot abandoned church at 976 Embarcadero del Mar for this project, a long-cherished and never realized dream of many Isla Vistans. Blackbird Architects, a Santa Barbara firm, has been hired, and construction is slated to begin in October. The IV Community Development Corporation, a longstanding nonprofit group in the community, is launching a campaign to raise up to $1.1 million in grants and donations for the renovation. Board director Lanny Ebenstein, a UCSB graduate and economics lecturer, is heading the effort.
UCSB acquisition: A building at 910 Embarcadero del Norte, home to Dublin’s Sports Grill, a Thai restaurant, tattoo parlor and hair salon, is in escrow for sale to the university. The property, last assessed at $1.4 million, is owned by Jason Yardi, the son of Yardi Systems founder Anant Yardi.
Infrastructure improvements: County Public Works will add street lighting in the downtown Loop and build sidewalks where segments are missing on Sueno and Sabado Tarde roads and Del Playa Drive. A traffic signal, Isla Vista’s first, will be installed at Embarcadero del Mar and Pardall Road, an intersection where cars compete with heavy bicycle traffic from the UCSB campus.
Also, the beach access parking spaces will be paved under the eucalyptus trees on Camino Majorca at the western edge of Isla Vista. This summer, the county will replace the storm drains underlying an alley that runs from Pasado Road to Del Playa in the 6700 block. The alley itself will be restored for both pedestrians and cars. The cost of the project is $1 million.
New bus line: MTD Line 28, proposed and paid for by UCSB, will begin operations in August from the campus past new university housing on El Colegio Road along the boundary with Isla Vista proper to the shopping centers at Storke Road and Hollister Avenue. Anyone can ride the buses: they will be free for UCSB students, faculty and staff. During the school year, the buses will run every 15 minutes on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to to 6:30 p.m., and every 30 minutes from 6:30 p.m. to midnight. On the weekends and during the summer, the buses will run every 30 minutes. The route begins at North Hall on campus, goes west along El Colegio at the northern boundary of Isla Vista, north on Storke, west on Phelps Road, and north on Pacific Oaks Road; then east on Hollister Avenue past Westar and the Camino Real Marketplace, and back on Storke and El Colegio to North hall. It is the first MTD bus line to be paid for in its entirety by UCSB – $10 million for the first four years.
The Children’s Center: Isla Vista Youth Projects Inc., a nonprofit organization, has launched a campaign to raise $1.9 million in 2016, its 45th anniversary year. Of the total, $1.2 million will be used to buy the building at 6842 Phelps Road where Youth Projects operates a center for infant care, toddler care and preschool education. The remaining funds will go toward renovations at the children’s center and three other program locations. Fifteen years ago, Youth Projects lost its lease in Isla Vista proper. The organization serves 2,000 families, 60 percent of whom live in Isla Vista.
Sobering center: Charges of underage drinking and drunkenness in public make up the largest number of arrests and citations in Isla Vista. Representatives of Associated Students, Santa Barbara City College and county Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services are proposing that space be reserved in the Isla Vista clinic building for liquor law offenders to sleep off their intoxication. They would have the option of attending classes in a drug and alcohol treatment program instead of going to court and, in some cases, jail.
To view UCSB student discipline reports, click on the links below: