Isla Vista Bookvan in Library Crosshairs

Argument Resumes over Use of County Headcount Funds

Goleta Library Isla Vista Book van | Credit: Courtesy

At the Santa Barbara County Library Advisory Committee on Wednesday, June 21, the news was positive — library services will continue as usual across the county — with the exception of the Isla Vista Bookvan, the fate of which may rest on whether the county will contribute $25,000 to keep its operation alive.

Isla Vista has a dire need for library services, said Marcos Aguilar, board president of the Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD). Despite its college-town reputation, I.V. has a large population of families and children on its western side. “There’s no direct public transit between Isla Vista and the Goleta library,” Aguilar said, pointing out that the trip takes more than an hour on foot and crosses Highway 101. Without the Bookvan, “That’s a huge barrier of access. It’s dramatically harder for [residents] to get access to books, literacy, reading access, and the other programs offered by libraries.”

The Goleta Valley Library has run the I.V. Bookvan since 2021, almost entirely on a $200,000 state grant obtained by Senator Monique Limón that paid for the van, four staff members, materials, computer equipment, and furniture in a two-year pilot program. That fund ran dry in December, and Goleta has kept the service going ever since.

One of the invaluable attributes of a public library is that all its services are free, but the major downside is paying for it all. In Santa Barbara County, a “per capita” fund goes to libraries, divvied up by the total residents in the five library zones — which are administered by five cities — as the county has no libraries itself.

In the allocation, Goleta receives Isla Vista’s portion — which the county inferred to include Isla Vista services and Goleta understood to be for the main library on Fairview Avenue that provides all services. That amount comes to $164,000 under the current per capita of $8.59 per head, which, from the county’s perspective, provides ample funds to run the Bookvan.

The library committee was offered three solutions by the county, which preferred the third option that the $164,000 be redirected from Goleta Library to another library for Bookvan services. The two other proposals were for Goleta to reduce Isla Vista service to five hours — down from 20 hours a week — or for the county to give Goleta $50,000 to raise that to 10 hours a week. 

Supervisor Das Williams, who chairs the Library Advisory Committee, did not support the funds going to Goleta’s library. Darcel Elliott, Williams’s chief aide who attended Wednesday’s meeting in his stead, told the Independent, “The community of Isla Vista should be receiving at least $164,000 worth of direct library services based on the county funds the City of Goleta receives on their behalf,” said Elliott. “The county isn’t going to pay twice for that service.”

By a unanimous vote, the library committee instead asked the county to give Goleta’s library $25,000 to keep the Bookvan at 20 hours. The supervisors will vote on the proposal on August 22.

That $25,000 is the same ask Goleta’s council came up with during budget talks on Tuesday, June 20. At that time, Goleta’s City Council had hashed out whether they’d continue serving Isla Vista and how much it would cost. City Manager Robert Nisbet stated that staff would find a way to fund whatever the council decided and set no ceiling on the amount. Goleta’s give started at $50,000 before rising to $100,000 and finally to $125,000 with the “challenge” that the county pitch in another $25,000.

Councilmember Kyle Richards, who is a budget analyst by profession, put into words the unspoken financial decision that was in the air on Tuesday. The numbers thrown out during the discussion indicated that about $200,000 would be needed to cover staff time for service extending to areas beyond Isla Vista, said Richards. Heads nodded all around the dais.

That question had existed since the first budget meeting two weeks earlier, said Councilmember James Kyriaco, who’d voiced the challenge to the county, indicating that the council was willing to use the city’s general fund for further Bookvan service to Isla Vista, and to Goleta’s Old Town neighborhood and underserved eastern Goleta areas, like the Positano Apartments. Goleta’s final determination will also come in August.

New countywide money anticipated for all the libraries was the subtext to Goleta’s discussion, through a Joint Powers Agreement. A JPA is hardly a done deal, as voters would have to first approve a tax to give the libraries a reliable income stream, which hasn’t existed since California dwindled library funding to zero a decade ago. The tax could produce between $1.2 million and $10.5 million, depending on the mechanism used. A survey to gauge public interest in the various methods is in the looking-for-funding stage itself, from the cities.

That tax won’t reach a ballot for a few years yet, and Isla Vista still faces the loss of Bookvan hours in the meantime. The per capita funds allocated to Isla Vista should give results, Marcos Aguilar argued: “Whoever gets our chunk of change is getting a nice boost, and I want to make sure as an individual that we’re getting a part of that boost.” The larger goal would be a permanent public library for the community of Isla Vista, said Aguilar: “That’s my personal dream, and I think it’s a lot of other Isla Vistans’ dream.”


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