Will self-governance be good or bad for Isla Vista? I can’t say. What I can say, however, is that the rhetoric surrounding self-governance has been bad for Isla Vista.
For over a year now, self-governance advocates have engaged in an audaciously misleading campaign to appropriate the momentum of Isla Vista’s upset in the wake of the chaotic spring of 2014. At every stage of the self-governance movement, the shadow of May 23 has been carefully invoked. Advocates have repeatedly spoken about “tragic history” of Isla Vista and the “need for safety in our community.” County Supervisor Doreen Farr said in a town hall meeting on July 21, 2014, “I think that it’s terrible it’s taken these tragic events of this year and Deltopia, but there’s been so much renewed energy and focus now on Isla Vista that it is all positive.”
The causal link between the tragedy and the self-governance movement is even included within the language of AB 3 itself, which cites “tragic events, including two violent sexual assaults, a riot, and a mass shooting that has brought focus to the unique needs of Isla Vista that can only be addressed by direct, local governance.” I fail to see how a bill designed to deal with such services as lighting and sidewalk upkeep could possibly have done anything to prevent the rare and horrific events of 2014.
The rhetoric surrounding self-governance has been misleading in other ways. Although advocates pay lip service to the idea of greater independence and autonomy for Isla Vista, the trend over the past year has been in the opposite direction. Rather than more individual freedom, Isla Vista has seen a massive influx of heavily armed police officers. Rather than greater autonomy, Isla Vista has seen a push by the University of California and UCSB’s Associated Students to increase their presence in Isla Vista. Only this summer, the UC spent $156 million buying Tropicana Apartments from a private owner.
Perhaps we have forgotten that students only began moving out of the dorms and into IV in the ’50s and ’60s to get out from under the university’s thumb. In doing so, they created a uniquely free-spirited community that is now being decimated by government brute force.
And with AB 3 on track to become law, the same political elite stands poised to begin electing themselves to newly created positions of power over our community, potentially completing the transformation of Isla Vista from an independent enclave into a docile satellite of the university.
Instead of encouraging freedom and resilience in the shadow of our town’s darkest hour, our political leaders have stoked in us an obsession with safety that borders on the pathological. Why? A frightened populace is malleable. It is compliant. It does not ask questions.
In 2015, UCSB gave its senior class gift to the Student Safety Enhancement Fund, a fund to enhance safety on campus and in Isla Vista. In a saccharine YouTube video meant to explain the gift to students, a caped superhero in a t-shirt reading “Safety Fund” saved students from being hit by bikes, convinced parents that UCSB would be a safe campus and heroically rushed in to tackle (former AS president) Ali Guthy and present her with a Band-Aid for a paper cut.
Is this a vision for the future of Isla Vista? A community where an Orwellian Big Brother figure will rush in and tackle us to the ground to save us from minor mishaps? Some might find such a vision appealing. I do not.
As a member of the 2016 senior class, I propose that our class gift be the creation of a Student Freedom Enhancement Fund, to help enhance civil liberties on campus and in Isla Vista. Although AB 3 has been signed into law, self-governance must still be approved by the voters in the 2016 general election. A local government might be a good thing. Isla Vista does need some sort of centralization, and the creation of a CSD or other form of government could just as easily provide students with a voice as it could be used to crush our voices.
So far, we have had no assurance from our leaders that our freedoms will be safe under the new local government. I will be graduated and gone by the time self-governance is voted on, but for the students who will have to live with its consequences: vote carefully, ask questions and give some thought to what will best preserve the independent spirit of our community.