Isla Vistans celebrate the passage of Measure R in 2018, which provided revenue for the Community Services District. IVCSD will have a Municipal Services Review in 2022, the Local Agency Formation Commission agreed. | Credit: courtesy IVCSD

The tax revenues paid to Isla Vista’s two-year-old government and where they’ve been going was the topic at the November 5 meeting of the Local Area Formation Commission, or LAFCO, as it looked at the benefits to the community from the creation of the I.V. Community Services District in 2016. At issue was the renewed threat to remove the ability to provide services if they hadn’t been undertaken by now.

LAFCO had resisted the formation of a government in Isla Vista for decades, and it literally took an act of California’s Legislature — Assembly Bill 3, authored by then-Assemblymember Das Williams — to form the IVCSD. A vote to establish the Community Services District followed in 2016, and the ability to raise revenue followed in a vote in 2018.

Commissioners obviously have their doubts as they circled the topic of a Municipal Services Review for some time on Thursday. At one point, Williams, now a Santa Barbara County supervisor, said the prolonged debate was simply because it was Isla Vista. 

“LAFCO has cordial enough relations with every other district, but instead it’s a major debate because of which district it is,” he said. The “other district” Williams meant was Los Olivos, which had similarly faced review this year but whose scrutiny was postponed with little discussion.

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Commissioner Roger Aceves, a councilmember from Goleta, argued that Isla Vista had made a “laundry list of things they wanted to do” in their formation papers and that it was time to review what they’d accomplished. The risk for Isla Vista, however, as had been raised at the previous hearings, was that any services on that list found to be inactive might be taken away. Given Isla Vista’s favor at LAFCO, there’d be snow at the beach before the district recovered any lost powers.

The commissioners referenced I.V.’s revenue of $200,000 its first year, which had grown to a budget this year of $1 million, according to its website. Isla Vista had made good on a number of its goals and was working on the rest. A tenant mediation program, an interpersonal violence investigator, another safety station for the campus escort service, the community center and library, the cleaning of gutters and graffiti, and a street lighting study followed by upgrades had already been accomplished, according to a letter from I.V.’s general counsel, G. Ross Trindle III of El Segundo.

Of the yet-to-be-established services, Spencer Brandt, president of the IVCSD, said the board had discussed them all. Some of them are clearly needed, such as building or health and safety code enforcement. Brandt said he couldn’t count the number of apartments he’d seen where the mold in the bathroom had simply been painted over. An inspection service or contractor could be hired by the CSD, with enforcement remaining in county hands. Similarly, they’d work with Public Works on street trees and parking, he said, and they were discussing how the Community Services District would differ from a Municipal Advisory Council and how to implement a planning commission or advisory group.

In discussions after the pandemic hit, Trindle stated LAFCO’s executive director, Paul Hood, had agreed to give IVCSD five more years to enact programs and services before the review. But the much-respected Hood died suddenly in May. During the November 5 meeting, the commissioners agreed to hire Michael Prater from San Luis Obispo’s LAFCO to take Hood’s place.

But Hood’s death left the I.V. issue without a defender. LAFCO staff suggested an earlier date of 2023 for the review. The commissioners discussed the time frame and IVCSD’s ambitions at length before Williams proposed 2022 in order to get to a conclusion, a motion rapidly seconded by Supervisor Steve Lavagnino. Most still paying attention by then agreed the word “latent,” which apparently decides if a service or power would remain or be removed, would not be employed in the compromise.

Spencer Brandt understood the time and resources the IVCSD’s ambitious agenda would require, but he pointed out the district was barely two years into its revenue-producing timeframe. 

“We’ll be able to rise to the occasion as we have before,” he said confidently.

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