Isla Vista Beat Reporter
A University of California, Santa Barbara Town Hall forum on Friday, May 2, brought together the diverse stakeholders of Isla Vista—students, public safety officials, local property owners, Santa Barbara County representatives, UCSB administrators, and non-student residents—to discuss the community’s social problems and find common ground for solutions.
The event was hosted at the Santa Barbara Hillel and catered by Silvergreens. The various attendees were divided into eight separate discussion tables, with a turnout of about 60 total people.
This was the first UCSB Town Hall held in Isla Vista, according to the forum’s moderator Jackie Kurta, director of the UCSB Alcohol and Drug Program.
“One of my goals today was to bring together the community around community issues,” said Kurta. “I wanted to make sure that we broadened the issue, and broadened the constituency so that there were other issues addressed. And I’m pleased that there were.”
A notable moment from the Town Hall came from former Mayor of Irvine and current City Councilmember Beth Krom. She delivered a eulogizing memoriam for her son Noah Krom, a student who died from an Isla Vista cliff fall in 2009, one week before his graduation.
“I am here not only for us, for you, for other families, but for everyone—of the parents of kids who are living in Isla vista attending UCSB, attending Santa Barbara City College,” she said.
At times choking back tears, she addressed how her son’s death had brought her into the Isla Vista community.
“I felt the best thing we could do in Noah’s memory was to try and help drive a better culture,” Krom said, “and figure out how to create all of those not only physical infrastructure improvements, communication infrastructure, social infrastructure, so that Isla Vista can undergo the kind of culture change that will be sustainable and that will lead to a healthier, safer experience for all the people that live there.”
Krom’s sentiments at the meeting happened to come two days before the body of 20-year-old UCSB student Sierra Markee-Winkler was found on the beach in Isla Vista on Sunday, May 4, according to a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office News Release.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding Markee-Winkler’s death, but the cause and manner of her passing will not be determined for several weeks.
The Town Hall event included an interactive text message platform where representatives were able to highlight their primary concern about Isla Vista. Safety, violence, and infrastructure stood out as the most widely acknowledged.
One question in particular—“What about Isla Vista do you treasure the most?”—prompted more diverse responses, ranging from parks and the ocean to location, energy, and even Freebirds.
With these suppositions in mind, the community representatives delved into community issues during Table Discussions. During this time, each group developed a list of concerns and problems within Isla Vista, writing their notes on large post-its for a group presentation.
“We talked a lot about IV and its purpose as a place of creative destructive freedom,” said third-year global studies major Jacob Lebell, referencing ideas for greater artistic expression and the empowerment of the community. “It’s this transitory time in a lot of peoples lives… This needs to be a thing that we focus on in discussing IV and making sure that we’re not trying to fight this essential quality of it.”
Other presenters touched on multi-faceted topics, ranging from a prevailing rape culture, deteriorating internal infrastructure, and an “us versus them” mentality between residents and local law enforcement.
Isla Vista Foot Patrol Lieutenant Rob Plastino spoke on this topic after the conclusion of the forum, noting, “there’s that rift between law enforcement and the community and that needs to be repaired.” Citing plans for further community outreach and the possibility of opening his doors to office hours, he said, “at the end of the day, we work for the community.”
Other speakers throughout the Town Hall spoke out against the perceived fractures within the Isla Vista community—citing reasons such as the transient nature of the student population, law enforcement controversies, tenant abuses, and a lack of alternatives to the party culture.
“Just being in this room just reminds me more and more how much more integrated our community needs to be,” said fourth-year global studies and political science double major Monte Richardson, the Community Affairs Board Community outreach coordinator. “We need to be able to build coalitions… We have a lot in common, and it’s just a matter of having that manpower behind it.”
Many possible solutions were proposed, including targeted local beautification projects, the establishment of a Community Service District, and university-led classes on Isla Vista culture.
Isla Vista Parks and Recreation District Director Rodney Gould emphasized his support for community participation.
“I just want to say that I want to encourage all of the different groups here to utilize the parks for cultural events and alternative things,” Gould said.
Most of the stakeholders spoke of the same underlying issues, albeit with diverse solutions on how to confront them. One of the foremost questions circulating the Town Hall was, “how could the ideas generated here today be disseminated to the wider student body and community?” Despite this underlying concern, the prevailing notion expounded by the crowd was the need for a greater voice for Isla Vista residents.
Camille Marti, a fourth-year communication and psychology double major, reinforced the necessity “to plan and address issues and problems with residents, businesses, students and administration.”
“I think really having more of a community feeling between UCSB and SBCC students rather than a rivalry would do a great thing to make our community in Isla Vista more cohesive,” she said.
Plastino also reflected on student involvement, and acknowledged the importance of their presence at the Town Hall.
“I go to a lot of meetings and a lot of times the student voice isn’t heard, and it’s unfortunate but it’s–as always–administrators trying to solve problems,” he said. “But they don’t include the actual grassroots, which is the students. So I think this meeting brought that voice in.”