A riot, gang rapes, and several deaths have brought Isla Vista national attention. Just a week ago, a bicyclist found a 20-year-old UC Santa Barbara student named Sierra Markee-Winkler dead on the beach. An autopsy is being done to determine the cause of death. It seems like things in I.V. are just getting worse and worse. It’s almost as though the area is cursed.
But local officials and residents have different ideas. They point to the party culture, a changing demographic in which families are moving out of the area, and the regular influx of outsiders into the community as the root cause of many of the problems.
Lieutenant Rob Plastino, head of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, painted a picture of I.V. that was difficult to stomach. He said that criminals are drawn to the area because they have heard about it through social media as a place with easy prey. Students often have an open-door policy, not thinking it necessary to lock up, and have huge, hundred-person parties in which they invite anyone into their houses. Also, the prevalent party culture means that there are many intoxicated college students roaming around during the weekends, who are easy targets for thieves or sexual predators.
Plastino said, “Every weekend there are sharks [predators] who come here to prey on intoxicated students.” He said rapes and thefts are not uncommon; there were two gang rapes recently. In January, he said, an intoxicated student was gang raped in I.V., and the perpetrators were arrested. The rapists involved in a gang rape on the UCSB campus in March, however, are still at large.
During Deltopia, he said “hardened gangsters” from Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and other areas had descended on I.V. He described an aspect of the riot that wasn’t seen on television: People threw bottles, tools, cinder blocks, paver stones, and more at the police from apartment balconies. “I personally saw a claw hammer slam into the pavement about 10 feet from me and only a couple feet away from a deputy,” said Plastino. “I saw other tools lying in the street: screwdrivers, a putty spreader, a wrench, steel pipe caps. It looked like people were just throwing whatever they could rummage and find.”
Many police officers were injured, one sheriff had to undergo five hours of surgery and won’t be able to return to active duty for six months. Another had tendons severed. Plastino said, “There was glass everywhere. Thousands of bottles were thrown at us.”
While UCSB officials claim their students weren’t involved in the riot, the Isla Vista Foot Patrol disagrees. “We noted every apartment that threw things at us,” Plastino said. “Every one is a UCSB or SBCC student. At the very least, they are passively complicit by the simple fact that they allowed their residence to be used as a launching platform to hurt and potentially kill law enforcement officers on the streets.”
Even with a true understanding of the challenges I.V. faces, Plastino remains optimistic. He is working with county officials, UCSB representatives, SBCC higher-ups, students, and local residents to bring about change. One of the things he is focusing on is student accountability.
“While I do appreciate UCSB’s administrative process, it lacks teeth when dealing with those that are passively complicit or are guilty of ‘only’ alcohol-related offenses,” Plastino said. He added, “My 8-year-old son, who is in 2nd grade, received a report card recently. On that report card was his grade for Citizenship, the rubrics of which are Respecting Others, Respecting Self, Respecting Property, Respecting Learning, and Accepting Responsibility for Self and Actions. I find it so terribly ironic that we hold our grade school students to such a higher social standard than the brilliant university students who will soon be leading industry and government.”
Local residents and county officials have echoed this frustration. They are calling for UCSB to take greater responsibility for its students.
What UCSB Has Planned
Chancellor Henry Yang has met with all interested parties in a series of meetings, including ones with Isla Vista residents, to hear what they have to say and discuss possible solutions. According to John Longbrake, associate vice chancellor for Public Affairs and Communication, the university is working on:
• Hiring additional officers for the UCSB police force
• Working with the county to provide additional lighting in Isla Vista
• Reviewing on-campus parking policies to help discourage out-of-town visitors during the weekend and prohibit overnight parking during events like Deltopia
• Exploring the idea of establishing campus events that would provide alternatives to the I.V. scene
• Enhancing orientation programs to help students better understand the challenges of living in I.V. and the need to adhere to community standards
Longbrake said, “The university has jurisdiction over student behavior in Isla Vista in cases of serious crimes, and we are committed to holding our students accountable through our campus judicial process as our policies allow. For minor offenses in Isla Vista, we have been notifying the students’ parents.” In addition, he said, “Going forward, we will be sharing a list provided by the Sheriff’s Office of individuals without a UCSB affiliation with other local colleges and universities with the hope that these institutions will initiate conversations with their own students about the impact of their off-campus behavior.”
While officials have ideas about what should be done, local residents have also been mobilized. They have been meeting in small groups in people’s homes to discuss possible solutions. “There are people who are meeting. People are concerned,” said Steven Fisher, a UCSB research professor emeritus who has lived in I.V. since 1973.
Fisher said there was a great emphasis put on the fact that most of the people involved in the Deltopia riot weren’t UCSB students. “To me, what is missing from the statistics is the number of people from out town who wouldn’t be coming here if UCSB students didn’t set the tone.” He blamed the party culture for drawing people to the area. “It’s an ‘everything goes’ tone,” he said. He has suggested that locals get together and have large community meetings to discuss possible solutions.
While it seems like an uphill battle, there are those willing to try to improve the situation in I.V. because they think it is a special place. Fisher is one of these people. He described how much he enjoys walking his pug along the bluffs every evening. “I’ve always really loved I.V.,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place to live.”