Isla Vista Beat Reporter
The Santa Barbara County Legislative Committee voted unanimously at its meeting on Monday, May 4 to recommend that the County Board of Supervisors support Assembly Bill 3 in its current form, with the stipulation that the board monitor the bill over time and report back to the committee. At the board’s next meeting, the supervisors will vote on whether or not to support the bill.
Assembly Bill 3, if passed, would call for a vote in the next countywide election to create a community services district as a means of self-governance for Isla Vista. If a majority of voters within Isla Vista and the University of California, Santa Barbara vote in favor of the district, a subsequent vote will be held on whether to impose a utility user tax, which taxes consumption of utilities such as electricity or gas, on members of the district to sustain it in the long term. If the tax is not approved by 2027, the bill stipulates that the district be dissolved.
Subjecting district formation to a vote of the people, even after the passage of AB 3, is part of an amendment made last week at the request of the County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which voted 6-1 against supporting the bill as it stood at the commission’s last meeting in early April. This opposition stems in large part from concerns that formation through the State Assembly bypasses necessary steps in the process, which is traditionally conducted by LAFCO.
The amendment is meant to more closely align AB 3 with the LAFCO process, according to bill author Assembly member Das Williams. The commission has also requested a financial feasibility study to ensure that the utility user tax will be sufficient to sustain the district.
According to Darcel Elliott, a field representative for Williams, preliminary reports from utility providers have indicated that the tax would generate $2-3 million in revenue. As of last week, however, the study is underway to determine more concrete numbers.
Regardless, Williams’ deviation from standard procedure was the source of most opposition Monday, with several speakers in attendance to highlight the bill’s shortcomings. Jeff Moorhouse, a LAFCO commissioner and member of the California Special Districts Association, brought up a number of concerns about financial aspects of the district.
“I think the numbers are way out of whack,” he said of the $2-3 million estimate. “I don’t think it will come even close to getting those types of numbers.”
Moorhouse also claimed that “tens of thousands” of dollars will be needed to place the measure on the ballot, raising the question of whether the state legislature can legally direct Santa Barbara County to fund it.
UCSB economics professor Lanny Ebenstein, also a UCSB alumnus whose family inhabited IV for more than 30 years, made a more positive fiscal argument. According to his calculations, he said, IV property owners stand to gain the most financially from a CSD in the long run.
“When the decision was made not to include Isla Vista in the city of Goleta, that meant that it really is a permanent island,” he said. “So the community services district is exactly the right vehicle for the sort of halfway status that it is.”
The nontraditional approach taken by AB 3 dates back to a recommendation by the UCSB Board of Trustees as part of a study it conducted on IV last summer. Formation through the Assembly affords more flexibility in designing specific powers and representation that may not be included in a traditional CSD.
One example of the flexibility afforded by the Assembly process is the nontraditional board structure written into the bill. The legislation calls for a seven-member board comprised of both elected and appointed officials. Five members are to be elected at large within the district, one appointed by the board of supervisors, and one appointed by the UCSB chancellor, all for four-year terms. The appointed positions have been included to help mitigate concerns about the transience of Isla Vista’s student population.
LAFCO commissioner Craig Geyer, also president of the Santa Barbara chapter of the California Special Districts Association, still thinks the at-large elections are “a disaster waiting to happen.” He pointed to the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District as an example, noting that student directors elected to the board in the last 10 years have served terms averaging below 18 months in length.
“The last thing Isla Vista needs is another failure,” he said. “AB 3 is a failure waiting to happen.”
Associated Students External Vice President of Local Affairs Cameron Schunk called attempts at deterring AB 3 “sandbagging,” targeted only at maintaining the status quo in IV. Though the recent amendment does not follow the LAFCO process exactly, he maintains that it follows the “spirit of the law” by including LAFCO in the formation process after approval of the bill. The commission’s real issue with the bill, he claimed, is that it does not want to fund the ballot measure should the bill be passed.
“Is LAFCO asking us to apply to them just so they can deny us again?” he inquired.
As it is currently designed, the district would have several broad powers, including taxation; finance of potential area planning commissions or municipal advisory committees; creation of a tenant mediation program; maintenance of streets, lighting, and community facilities; parking regulation; and instatement of additional police protection.
Third District County Supervisor Doreen Farr put forth the motion for the committee to support and monitor the bill. She reminded those in attendance that the legislature has more liberty to customize the design of a CSD and emphasized the importance of such liberty to an unconventional town like IV.
“I think that the reason that the trustees came up with that solution was because they, like all of us, know that Isla Vista is a very unique community,” she said, “and if they fit the standard model, they probably would have gone through the LAFCO process before now.”
Though AB 3 has the support of the legislative committee, the Goleta City Council has postponed its decision on the bill indefinitely. With or without the support of local agencies, the bill will go to a vote of the Assembly Local Government Committee on May 13, to determine whether it will be heard on the Assembly floor.