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The S.B. Questionnaire: Jonathan Abboud

Talking Representation with the GM of the Isla Vista Community Services District and SBCC Trustee

Jonathan Aboud on Del Playa Drive in Isla Vista. (September 30, 2019) | Credit: Paul Wellman

“It’s important to get younger people into office,” says Jonathan Abboud, who is 27 years old. “We need better representation. “   

Jonathan is the general manager of the Isla Vista Community Services District and a Santa Barbara City College Trustee. When we met for lunch, he divulges that, the following morning, he’ll be kicking off his campaign for the State Assembly seat being vacated by Monique Limón, who is now running for State Senate.  

“I’m running on two values I believe in,” he explains.  “We prosper when we all prosper.  If we have the ability to imagine ambitious and transformative change that leads to this prosperity for everyone, then we have to do everything within our power to make it happen.”

When we first start chatting, Jonathan admits that he wanted to be featured in this questionnaire because he feels he his public image is inaccurate. “People think I’m a radical fire brand, a college kid in Isla Vista, and people wonder why I’m still there,” he says. “It doesn’t bother me. It’s good to define yourself.” 

What matters most to Jonathan is what he stands for. “Higher education has always been a big passion,” he says  

Jonathan grew up in the Mid-City neighborhood of Los Angeles. Both of his parents came from Lebanon. “I didn’t speak English until I was six,” he shares. “I spoke Arabic.  We were raised with a strong Lebanese background, but my parents wanted us to know American culture so we could be successful here. It was important for us to have both perspectives.”    

His mom got him an interdistrict transfer to go to Culver City High School.  “She knew getting a better education was important,” Jonathan says. After graduation in 2010, he was accepted to NYU and UCSB. After making a commitment to go to NYU yet then realizing the terrible financial support they were offering, he begged UCSB to take him. They did, and he quickly became active in campus politics and life. 

During Jonathan’s freshman year, he helped organize 10,000 people to send letters in support of student funding for the college system. During his sophomore year, he was arrested in Washington D.C. for protesting silently against Sallie Mae, the student loan corporation. When he was a junior, he worked on Prop 30 to stop budget cuts on education, mobilizing 11,000 people. 

In 2013-2014, his senior year, Jonathan was elected student body president. “That year, there was a lot of tragedy in Isla Vista,” he explains. “There was a lot of crime, a riot during Deltopia, and a gang-related sexual assault on campus. And then there was the May 23 tragedy. Before the shooting, we were fighting for self-governance.  It took six people being murdered to bring in support to I.V. and break the cycle of neglect.” 

After graduating with a degree in political science in June 2014, he grappled with his next move. Though accepted into grad school, he instead co-founded the Isla Vista Self Governance Initiative, and succeeded in creating the Isla Vista Community Services District, a specialized form of local government.  

Then, with Isla Vista still on his mind,  he decided to run for the Board of Trustees at SBCC, which is where many Isla Vista residents attend school. “I was able to give I.V. a better voice,” says Jonathan, who was elected in November 2014 and is the youngest community college trustee in California.  

“With the Isla Vista Community Services District, we created a mini-city,” he explains.  “We have a $1 million budget to look and care for Isla Vista. We’ve been able to do a lot in two years.  None of us had any experience in government. We know our community. We build it one piece at a time. We care a lot about it.  The organization is running like a well-oiled machine. We have a long term vision for I.V. that comes from the ground up instead of being laid upon us.  That’s why I stayed. I knew we needed this.”

On October 5, there was key Democratic Party pre-endorsement meeting leading up to the campaign for the 37th Assembly District seat.  “We came in first, that was a surprise,” says Jonathan. “This is going to be a tough campaign and I intend to win in November 2020. I am confident that we are running a campaign that speaks directly to the issues most important to voters, like a Green New Deal, universal pre-K, and tuition-free college for all, and getting money out of politics.”

Jonathan Abboud answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What is your current state of mind?
Determined, focused, and excited running for State Assembly and elevating the bold progressive issues I, and many people, care about into our public discussion.

What is your motto?
There are so many, but the one that always comes to mind first is Doc Brown’s saying in Back to the Future, my favorite movie: “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be a historical figure one day, and I strongly identify with her. I’m a huge fan of what she’s doing to disrupt the usual political discussion and advance bold progressive agendas for working people.

What do you like most about your job?
I’m the General Manager of the Isla Vista Community Services District, our town’s local government. Taking direction from our locally elected board, I implement/operate services that benefit the community, manage our finances, and oversee our facilities and staff.  

From 2013-2016 when we advocated for the creation of an IVCSD, our imaginations ran wild with what it could do and mean for our community. To make that imagination into a reality that’s improving the level of public safety and quality of life for people is surreal and an immense honor. Being apart of an organization that actively writes the future of our community, rather than only being able to react to outside forces, makes every day feel like a part of history. 

I also live across the street, so my commute is a two-minute walk. I get to have lunch on my balcony at home (whenever I actually eat lunch) and rarely need to drive (which is one of my least favorite things to do).

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Sleep in (but not too much), iced almond milk latte and avocado toast from Caje, get to Sands Beach before 2 p.m., take a swim, walk home to shower, maybe nap, and then watch the sunset before coming home to cook dinner and watch The Office or play Super Smash Bros (all with my girlfriend).

What is your greatest fear?
Wasting my time on Earth and losing the people I care about.

Who do you most admire?
Right now, I admire Greta Thunberg, Autumn Peltier, and the millions of high school and college students who went on strike to demand those in power to wake up and take bold action on climate change. It is so mind-numbingly frustrating that those in power refuse to act in a way that actually puts people first, especially the people who will have to live with the repercussions of inaction. I know deep down that this movement will only continue to grow and overtake the corruption, apathy, and inertia that has captured our government’s decision makers.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I don’t really spend a lot of money if at all on things I don’t need, but time is a very precious resource for me. Taking time to just do nothing is a huge extravagance (it shouldn’t be, but that’s the world we’ve built) and one I can’t live without.

What is the quality you most like in people?
I like it when people are down to earth and set aside ego.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?
I dislike it when people talk a big game and don’t follow through, but still try to get the credit.

What do you most value in friends?
Loyalty, and I like to think I’m a loyal friend. Also, showing up.

What is your most marked characteristic?
People like to call me dogged — I don’t give up and I don’t believe in the word impossible. People also say I’ve got an endearing sense of humor. 

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Literally” and “10/10,”  “Literally, the best burger I’ve ever had in my life. 10/10”

Which talent would you most like to have?
Teleportation. I would love to never drive again.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’m always trying to eat healthier and more sustainably, go to the gym more, and “slow down.”

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being a core organizer to create the Isla Vista Community Services District to put power into the hands of residents in Isla Vista, expand democracy, and end its “cycle of neglect” (as Das Williams puts it), bar none.

Where would you most like to live?
I already live in the greatest town in the world (I.V.) and lived in the greatest major city in the world (L.A.), but I wouldn’t mind a stint in N.Y.C. or Vancouver. 

What is your most treasured possession?
A black and gold Movado watch passed down in my family. I sadly lost the original at the beach two years ago (my fault) and had to buy a replacement (and it was not a cheap mistake, let me tell you). 

What makes you laugh the most?
The Office. I’ve watched through the entire show at least 15-20 times and I still laugh hysterically at most scenes.

On what occasion do you lie?
When I say I’m on my way, but I’m only just putting on my shoes.

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