Mediation for Most: I.V. Community Considers Potential CSD Tenant Mediation Program



Hector Sanchez Castaneda
Isla Vista Beat Reporter

Historically, tenants and landlords have had a turbulent relationship in I.V. In the summer of 2014, Majestic Asset Management Inc. evicted six families out of the Abrego Villas apartment complex to renovate the buildings and did not allow them to come back. The Isla Vista Tenants Union (IVTU) eventually launched an awareness campaign with support from several key figures, such as Assemblymember Das Williams and State Senator Hannah Beth Jackson, and the families reached a settlement with Majestic.

I.V. stakeholders are looking to go one step further by having a tenant mediation program be part of their envisioned Community Services District (CSD). As part of their weekly meetings, community members recently met with Andrea Bifano, senior rental housing mediation specialist for the City of Santa Barbara to see what the program could potentially look like.

Santa Barbara County currently has a contract with Bifano’s department that gives unincorporated territories—like I.V.—free phone services to answer questions that direct tenants to helpful resources. The CSD plans on contracting with Bifano’s department to add tenant mediation to the services available.

“We talk about the problem and how the person can resolve the problem,” Bifano said. “A lot of disputes arise over misinformation or miscommunication, so we want to make sure they have accurate information on whatever facet of the state regulation is at issue.”

An issue that arose is the number of residents that would be using the service. Darcel Elliott, district director for Williams’ office, mentioned that there are no concrete numbers available to demonstrate how many non-UCSB affiliated renters live in I.V. This is an apparent obstacle since the CSD would like to budget with that number in mind, since it would not count UCSB students as a probable client. The CSD’s plan for service draft currently has a $30,000 budget for the program.

According to Elliott, the university’s Community Housing Office has stated that it would prefer for any mediation program to refer UCSB students to them.

“UCSB students would not be using this service because they already have mediation available to them on campus,” Elliott said.

Jay Freeman, vice president of the IV Downtown Business Association and candidate for Third District supervisor, expressed some concern that it seems unfair if UCSB students who are paying the same taxes as everyone else are denied access to the CSD mediation program.

Bruce Porter, another contender for the Third District supervisor seat, said that the CSD could potentially think of contracting the university’s housing department instead of Bifano’s so that there wouldn’t be any duplication of services, but Elliott said that the university is not interested in doing so.

Other ideas that sprang up included the formation of a small fund for rental subsidies to dislocated families, a landlord grading book and a rental housing round table — a safe place where tenants and landlords alike would come together with a mediator to talk about issues they could address before escalating.  

Bifano reminded the attendees that neutrality is an integral aspect of mediation. According to her, even though it may seem like the odds are usually stacked against the tenants, it is important to see from all perspectives to get a full view of the issue.

Conversations will continue, but for now, Bifano and IVTU President and fourth-year English and sociology double major Clara Perez will be organizing a workshop for tenants in I.V. According to them, education is important for the prevention of disputes.