Isla Vista District Fights to Keep All Service Powers

Community Government Protests Review Letter

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The Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD) celebrated its second birthday last spring, an event that alarmed the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), if only because LAFCO CEO Paul Hood felt remiss in having forgotten the event. It meant the commission’s one-year review of IVCSD’s services was overdue. The review letter, the district’s Jonathan Abboud charged, was an attempt by the commission to illegally usurp IVCSD’s powers.

“We were doing a periodic review at the end of 2019,” Hood said, “of the special districts and cities in the county.” Oversight is part of LAFCO’s function, he explained, and when I.V.’s tax funding experienced delays, his staff delayed the services review as well. Isla Vista, largely a student community that rents on the edge of UC Santa Barbara but housing many families as well, had voted to tax itself in 2018 to fund the district. As of last year, the district had $770,000 in revenue. Its charter empowers the district, among other things, to form a tenant mediation program, operate parking, contract for police protection, run I.V.’s Community Center, and abate graffiti.

During the LAFCO meeting, Commissioner Jay Freeman, who sits on both the district and commission boards, asked if Isla Vista were on the list, and Hood said he realized they were a little behind in sending out a Municipal Services Review. When that letter was sent, however, the youthful I.V. district didn’t look at it as a simple review. Jonathan Abboud, general manager for the district and a candidate running for the 37th Assembly District, said it was a clear attempt to remove some of the district’s powers.

“The IVCSD lawyer sent a very, very strong letter saying it was improper to use a Municipal Services Review to try to deactivate our powers,” Abboud said. Any such attempt had to be made during a properly noticed meeting, he stated, and LAFCO’s letter lacked any basic due process or notice. Among the issues were the organization of I.V.’s planning commission, municipal advisory council, and streetlight, gutter, and sidewalk services, according to Abboud. The letter from IVCSD outlined how it was indeed addressing each of those services.

Abboud and Hood met to discuss the letter. Hood said that any powers that were deactivated could simply be reactivated by applying to LAFCO. Abboud recalled the stiff arm that Isla Vista’s attempts to form some sort of government had received in the past. Freeman acknowledged it could be a simple reactivation application, but it would probably also require a financial feasibility study, which could take time, and then LAFCO could just say no again.

The quick timetable in LAFCO’s belated letter could have added to IVCSD’s fears, Freeman thought. LAFCO gave a deadline that fell between two scheduled meetings, Freeman said, and a special meeting had to be noticed and held.

For his part, LAFCO’s Hood disagreed that any powers were being deactivated at the moment. The two agencies needed to meet to discuss the matter, he said, which was likely to happen in the coming months.

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