Hector Sanchez Castaneda
Isla Vista Beat Reporter
The Isla Vista Safe Center — formerly referred to as the Sobering Center — is in its final stages of planning. Its further development now hinges on locating funding sources from various entities across the county.
The project is expected to cost around $300,000 a year and will most likely be housed on the first floor of the I.V. Clinic Building at 970 Embarcadero del Mar. Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr has offered to give up her I.V. office space for the development of the center, according to various sources.
Stakeholders are aiming for the center to become self-sustaining after a couple of years in business, according to John Doyle from the county’s behavioral wellness department. Doyle has procured $35,000 from his department to fund the Safe Center and is working with other potential sources.
“We’re looking for a wide range of investments and funding … from Cottage Hospital to UC Santa Barbara to Santa Barbara City,” Doyle said. “We just don’t want this to fall on any one group.”
One major source of funding that center stakeholders are looking to tap into is UCSB students.
On Apr. 18, during the Associated Students Spring Elections, students will vote on whether or not to fund a wide array of initiatives. One of them is the Safety in Isla Vista Initiative which could serve as a potential funding mechanism for the center, according to third-year history of public policy major and External Vice President for Local Affairs Paola Dela Cruz.
“If students pass it … it will allocate funds toward safety resources in our community,” Dela Cruz said. “That money will create a board under the EVPLA office and that board will hear from these organizations on a yearly basis.”
The initiative would generate approximately $130,000 to fund various programs and projects in the community, according to Dela Cruz.
While passage of the A.S. initiative will not necessarily determine the fate of the center, its failure could be a major setback for project development. In 2014, an initiative to increase the A.S. Legal Resource Center lock-in fee by $5.45 per student for the construction for a sobering center failed to muster the 60 percent necessary for it to pass.
The concept behind the center is to deter unnecessary arrests and citations.
“A lot of times we end up arresting [students] because they are unable to care for themselves,” Lieutenant Rob Plastino, station sergeant of the I.V. Foot Patrol, told The Bottom Line. “They put themselves in a bad position and we’re trying to save them from potentially being hurt further, either through a sexual assault because they’re incapacitated or they’re with somebody they don’t even know.”
Those brought to the Safe Center would have two options should they choose to spend the night there, according to A.S. Legal Resource Center attorney Robin Unander. Their first option would entail an educational program administered by the UCSB Alcohol and Drug Program and an administrative fee between $300 and $350. No citation would be issued, meaning the criminal records of center visitors without prior violations could remain intact.
The other option permits visitors to opt out of the educational program and handle their violation through the court system instead.
To prevent abuse of the center, there would be a limit on the number of times each individual may pick the educational program as his or her choice sanction. That limit is still under negotiation but will afford either one or two opportunities to take the more lenient route, according to Unander. Community Resource Deputy James McKarrell would oversee tracking of center users to enforce the policy.
Officers would have full discretion as to who is sent to the Safe Center, according to Plastino. This means that if a subject were to display a combative nature, they would not be given the option to use the center and would instead be sent to jail. Furthermore, the center would only be available to those who do not show explicit need of medical attention due to intoxication.
Most entities involved in the planning have stated their support, but there is a general sense among several stakeholders that UCSB has some reservations about the center.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of resistance from the university,” Unander said. “It’s not something that they embrace … and I think we’re slowly addressing all of their concerns so that they really can’t protest too much anymore.”
Deborah Fleming, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, has been a university representative for the development of the center and said the concerns are more like questions she feels must be answered before moving forward.
“I support the concept,” Fleming said. “I think the concept of creating a place that creates a safer space for a student that’s had too much to drink [and] where they can be pulled off the street, looked after, and have a chance to sober up — yeah I support that. I think it’s a model [of] something we haven’t tried yet.”
Fleming’s questions include the location of the center and how it would affect operations of other UCSB agencies that share the clinic building. She also expressed concern over the potential cost of the service, its self-sustaining capabilities, and the possibility of out-of-towners abusing the system.
Dela Cruz acknowledged a need for renovations to the building.
“That space needs many renovations,” Dela Cruz said. “For example … some of the doors need to be blocked off, and there needs to be a new entrance, or there needs to be some sound-proofing stuff. There needs to be a different floor installation so that it’s not a carpet.”
Edward St. George of St. George and Associates rental agency told The Bottom Line that he would be willing to cover the costs needed to turn Farr’s offices into a functioning center. This donation stems from his worries of women’s safety in the community, he said. The cost is estimated to reach $50,000.
“It’s a small contribution to the community, but I think it should also bring awareness to the community,” St. George said. “Isla Vista’s got a huge problem, huge problem, and you would know that by living out there.”
While discussions are still ongoing, Dela Cruz estimates that if the initiative passes and funding is secured from entities such as Cottage Hospital, UCSB and SBCC, the project could potentially be complete by spring of 2017.
Update Wed., Mar. 30 at 9:25 p.m.: At the A.S. Senate meeting on March 30, the Senate failed to vote on whether the Safety in Isla Vista Initiative should be on the elections ballot. Because of this, students will not vote on whether to fund the Safety in Isla Vista Initiative during A.S. elections this April.