Community Service District Poses Opportunity for Greater Autonomy for Isla Vista


Giuseppe Ricapito
Isla Vista Beat Reporter

Running parallel with transformative post-Deltopia planning is a grassroots campaign to give Isla Vista greater local autonomy as a Community Service District (CSD), a form of independent community government used to provide services in an unincorporated area of the county.

Many claim this is the best way to improve IV’s decaying infrastructure and give the community a greater voice in their own affairs. But still, like with past applications for cityhood, the CSD proposal faces many local hurdles and voices of opposition on the way to approval.

“My hope with the CSD is that it continues to improve the quality of life beyond parks,” said CSD advocate Josh Plotke, a fifth-year biological anthropology major. “I have advocated for major systemic change in IV mainly because of the crime problem. I think the IV CSD would be a step in the right direction, by improving the services in IV, and tangentially would cause a decrease in crime as well.”

The original plan for the CSD is rooted in a 2002-2003 Santa Barbara Grand Jury review of the report “Isla Vista—Who’s in Charge.” The report emphasizes the extreme density of IV (drawing from May 2003 data), noting “approximately 20 percent of these [Santa Barbara County Third District] voters live in Isla Vista, which is only about one half square mile in size.”

Proponents of the CSD emphasize that the county cannot provide specific aid and resources to such a small location while also dealing with the widespread and diverse needs of the entire Third District.

After an evaluation of IV’s internal issues, the document determines “the registered voters of Isla Vista have the privilege and responsibility to hold their elected officials accountable for their decisions.” The report calls for Isla Vistans to “take a more active role in determining its future…” and “take the necessary time to become knowledgeable about how Isla Visa can and should take charge!” Further, it states that the formation of a CSD and an election of a local Board of Directors “would establish local political control” and allow for the retention of “financial resources.”

In the process for CSD formation, there can either be a resolution by the Parks Board or the county, or 25 percent of voters in IV can sign an official petition to be sent to the Santa Barbara Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which will either approve or reject the proposal. If approved, a local election will be held to approve or disapprove the CSD, authorize property tax increases, and elect the IV CSD Board of Directors.

Since the plan must be financially feasible, it is unlikely that the application for an IV CSD would claim all the possible powers authorized, which include numerous civil items from waste management and the creation of a community center to security service and cemetery maintenance. Instead, in an effort to assure approval, the IV CSD would likely claim a minimal increase in control of some services to fix some features of IV’s decaying infrastructure, such as graffiti abatement, street lighting, or fixing sidewalks.

“I would suggest that only non-controversial services be pursued,” said Plotke. Along with the infrastructure repairs and the establishment of a community center, he suggested “possibly a municipal advisory council and/or an area planning commission and the like.”

Once LAFCO grants those powers to the CSD, the elected Board of Directors would have complete autonomy on those issues. The CSD does not create a complete secession from the county; IV would gain autonomy on some specific internal issues, but it would still rely on services provided by the County Third District.

Associated Students External Vice President of Local Affairs (EVPLA) Alex Moore contended that, overall, the CSD would strengthen the role of the EVPLA office with IV.

“It would give EVPLA a very strong ally,” he said. “It would enable the EVPLA to focus more exclusively on student needs because there would be someone else representing the community as a whole.”

But property and homeowners in Isla Vista are concerned with the increased property taxes required to fund and support the CSD. Though the community has a direct say in the types of services it receives, they are mandated to pay for the services the CSD provides.

“They don’t have to live here and deal with the consequences of having lower levels of services,” Plotke said. “They don’t want to pay the level of taxes needed to support the level of services needed in IV.”

Despite recent misinformation from EVPLA-elect Beatrice Contreras* regarding taxation policy, the CSD would not mandate an increased local sales tax.

“The only taxes that a CSD would be able to levy are property taxes and fees for services,” said Plotke. “Even then, the taxes would have to be approved by two-thirds of IV voters.”

The Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District (IVRPD) is currently the community’s only local governing body—and according to proponents of the proposal, a CSD would both expand and improve services exclusive to Isla Vista.

In a 2003 IVRPD response to the Grand Jury proposal, Chairperson Harley Augustino acknowledges the Grand Jury’s argument—“they felt that an agency with centralized authority and responsibility would lead to a better community”—but also asserts that the “process of creating such a government has been in the past as it would be today, divisive.”

In a community that can be largely resistant to change, it remains up in the air whether the CSD will gain traction in the coming year. But if it eventually passes, there will be big changes on the horizon for the governance of Isla Vista.

*Correction: This was edited to include “from EVPLA-elect Beatrice Contreras” in order to clarify where the misinformation came from.