County Supervisor Laura Capps (in pink jacket) listens as Isla Vista residents, students, and reporters discuss fence heights, cliff safety, and housing in I.V. on April 29, following the death of Jake Parker on April 20. | Credit: Eleanor Gartner

Following the death of 23-year-old UCSB alum Jake Parker on Saturday, April 21, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Laura Capps hosted a listening session in Isla Vista to allow the community to discuss housing and bluff safety. Supervisor Capps hosted the meeting alongside Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD) General Manager Jonathan Abboud and UCSB Director of Student Life Katya Armistead at the Isla Vista Community Center on Monday, April 29.

With a small group of Isla Vista residents in attendance, including students and non-students, Supervisor Capps began the listening session by offering a moment of silence for the 14 individuals who have lost their lives as a result of falling off the Isla Vista cliffs since 1994. Parker, who tragically fell during the annual UCSB alumni weekend, is the second death due to cliff falls in the past year — 19-year-old Benjamin “Benny” Schurmer suffered a fatal fall on September 2, 2023, after falling from an oceanside cliff on the 6700 block of Del Playa Drive.

Schurmer’s death sparked a countywide effort led by Supervisor Capps — who oversees the 2nd District, including Isla Vista — to improve bluff safety in parks and on oceanside Del Playa residences. This culminated in Capps’s eight-point safety plan for the bluffs that included building six-foot fences in Isla Vista parks (a project that is already underway); requiring residences to install floodlights and install six-foot fences on oceanside homes; installing permanent bathrooms on Del Playa Drive; and educating Isla Vista residents on the dangers of cliff erosion and bluff safety.

Monday’s meeting addressed the progress of the eight-point plan as well as the concerns of students and tenants following the passing of Parker. One of the biggest problems Supervisor Capps’s office is facing has been encouraging Isla Vista landlords to raise their fences to the county-mandated six feet from the previous regulation of three-and-a-half feet. Supervisor Capps told the Independent that the county cannot currently force landlords whose properties were “grandfathered in” prior to the November 28 resolution requiring fences to be at least six feet.

County officials have attempted to incentivize Isla Vista property owners to raise fence height by subsidizing fence construction, but, as Supervisors Capps noted during the meeting, there has been some “running around” by landlords. To address this, Supervisor Capps has partnered with the IVCSD and County Inspectors to facilitate an easier method for tenants to file anonymous building complaints against property owners and request an inspection from Santa Barbara County Safety Inspectors. Recently, one Isla Vista resident requested an anonymous inspection where officials found mold in their housing unit, an example that, according to Supervisor Capps, indicates that residents “fear getting their tenancy revoked” for making requests to their landlords.

The recent deaths of Parker and Schurmer, said Supervisor Capps, highlight the need for the full and speedy implementation of the eight-point plan, which requires residents and landlords to meet the county halfway. The county will do “anything they can to prevent this happening,” said Supervisor Capps, who admitted that the combination of drugs and alcohol among I.V. residents is a huge part of the problem. In addition to continuing to spread education on cliff and bluff safety and erecting the six-foot fences, Supervisor Capps said her office will continue to educate residents on cliff safety and work with landlords to prevent the opportunity of another cliff fall.

Supervisor Capps said that “student voices are often sidelined” when it comes to cliff safety plans, adding that “[students] are the ones living in Isla Vista and experiencing these challenges daily. From perilous blufftop fencing to crammed living conditions, reports of mold in homes, and other health hazards, my hope is that this listening session will give students a safe and supportive platform to make their concerns heard and known.” “It’s about empowering tenants further,” said Supervisor Capps, who said she intends Monday’s meeting to be one of many conversations for students and tenants. She said that the long-term ecological plan for the cliffs isn’t promising, noting that rising tides due to climate change are causing quicker cliff erosion every year. “But the plan is to make it as safe as possible for the tenants who live there right now,” Capps said.

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