James Gelb on the night in question
Courtesy Photo

Former Isla Vista landlord James Gelb has reportedly agreed to plead guilty to disturbing the peace charges for a homophobic tirade he unleashed on an openly gay elected official, Ethan Bertrand of Isla Vista Community Services District, last November on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. If Gelb, who was one of Isla Vista’s biggest landlords, performs 50 hours of community services and undergoes 12 hours of anger management counseling by December 3, prosecutors will allow him to plead guilty to an infraction as opposed to the misdemeanor charges initially filed. Gelb initially pleaded not guilty.

In May, Gelb sold his 37 Isla Vista properties to an entity called Isla Vista Owner, an LLC comprising “multiple partners,” according to representatives of Encore Property Management, who added that the partnership paid $82.5 million for Gelb’s properties plus three others. The new owners have also donated an undisclosed amount to the Pacific Pride Festival, which is hosting its LGBTQ rally at Chase Palm Park on August 25.

Caught on video, the Gelb–Bertrand interaction showed Gelb repeatedly calling Bertrand “a fag” and “a goddamn fag,” before taunting him with more offensive outbursts. Bertrand, then coming from an election-night party, encountered Gelb on State Street and initiated contact. He applauded Gelb for putting the latter’s extensive real estate portfolio on the market, adding Gelb had done a poor job managing his properties. Gelb then launched into his profanity-laced screed, from which Bertrand repeatedly sought to walk away. No blows were exchanged, but Gelb appeared to lunge at Bertrand at one point.

Gelb’s behavior, prosecutors said, could have incited violence. At the time, Gelb said he felt unfairly maligned throughout Isla Vista because he was a major landlord and because he frequently went out with women one-third his age. He denied being homophobic, contending Bertrand had called him a fag first. Gelb noted his brother had died of AIDS after a 22-year struggle. The maximum penalty Gelb faced was 90 days of community service. Bertrand expressed relief that it appeared a deal might be finalized, stating, “When a community constantly has its toes stepped on, it’s important to demand some accountability.” As for the sentence, he stated, “I’m gratified Mr. Gelb will be giving back to the community in some way or another.”


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