Third District Candidates Discuss Isla Vista Issues at Community Forum

Kayli Walker/TBL Photography

Gilberto Flores
Staff Writer

Candidates vying to represent the third supervisorial district on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors met last week on April 27 for a Wednesday night forum at Isla Vista Elementary School. The event, organized by the League of Women Voters of Santa Barbara, featured the five contenders giving their best cases for why voters should choose them to serve the district that encompasses the University of California, Santa Barbara, Isla Vista, Goleta and the Santa Ynez Valley.

The five candidates — Bob Field, Jay Freeman, Joan Hartmann, Karen Jones and Bruce Porter — answered questions on topics including third district governance, county finances, water and environmental protection, among other issues. But the topic dominating discussion was Isla Vista and the many issues facing it, including parking, self-governance, safety, homelessness and overall quality of life for residents of the densely populated beachside community.

All candidates agreed, in one way or another, that the needs of local communities like I.V. are not currently being met by the county government. Sixty-nine percent of voters in the third district do not have a city government — as Hartmann noted in her closing statement — leaving the county government their primary governing body, and designated district supervisor their primary elected official through which to enact change on the local level.

When asked what changes would help improve the quality of life in I.V., Field suggested that improving what he called a “floundering” I.V. Master Plan would be a good first step as well as promoting the creation of a Community Services District (CSD). The retired entrepreneur from Santa Ynez also suggested that more cooperation from UCSB would help improve the quality of life for I.V. residents.

“I think UC Santa Barbara has done a pretty good job, but I can’t say better than pretty good,” Field said. “You don’t have to be sick to get better. I think the university can be better in helping Isla Vista be better.”

“Number one: we need to figure out how to get more police here,” Freeman said in response to the same question. “We’ve doubled the population and decreased the number of police. Our police department, the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, was designed to be a community policing force … and they now say they are a reactive agency only.”

Freeman, a longtime I.V. resident and activist, cited the foot patrol’s lack of resources as a barrier keeping it from effectively policing the community. He also promoted the idea of creating a Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) as a way to streamline communication between the community and the county government. Creating a local tenant mediation board is another idea Freeman said could help alleviate many of the mounting concerns of local renters.

Hartmann mentioned self-governance as another avenue for improving Isla Vista. “It’s really the size of a city,” she said. “It doesn’t have the revenues that a city might have … It is the most happening place in the county in terms of investment, involvement, excitement.” Hartmann, who has represented the third district on the county planning commission since 2013, also stated her support for hiring more community resource officers and improving infrastructure as ways to heighten the quality of life in I.V.

Jones, the newest candidate to the race, agreed that creating a community services district and implementing a rent board would be beneficial to Isla Vista residents. “I’ve been to parties. I’ve been to concerts. I’ve been in these houses and ‘slumlord’ maybe is not harsh enough,” she said about the quality and lack of accountability with regard to rental properties in I.V.

She suggested that landlords should be held more accountable to their tenants. “You have a responsibility as a landlord, and somebody needs to make sure that things are enforced,” she said.

Hartmann ranked safety her top concern for Isla Vista. “In Isla Vista, there is seven percent of the [county] population, but twenty-five percent of the crime,” she said, citing a figure provided by the IVFP. “There are assaults on women, burglaries, and so we really need to focus on safety.”

The 25 percent figure includes “burglary, robbery, grand theft, sexual assault and other violent crimes,” according to the IVFP.

Porter also placed safety at the top of his list of concern for Isla Vista. He mentioned his plan for Isla Vista’s future — which he calls “Isla Vista 2.0” — as a good first step, along with creating a CSD.

Porter’s proposal operates from the understanding that I.V. is essentially a city. “In all of our minds, Isla Vista is a city,” Porter said during his opening statement. “It looks like a city. It feels like a city. It has the same aspirations as a city.”

The plan involves using existing county personnel and resources to create a central Isla Vista government, complete with a city hall with a front desk staff to provide information and help for residents, a city manager to supervise and coordinate county resources, a public works staff to carry out repairs and other projects, as well as a host of other functions like a planning department and a city council.

Parking and infrastructure are other top concerns for Porter. “We need to quit throwing pennies at Isla Vista… and make it the great community it should be,” he said.

On the ever-present issue of parking in I.V., all candidates agreed that the parking situation is in need of some reevaluation and that the multi-faceted issue would be a difficult one to solve.

“Public Works did not use a very good methodology in documenting the extent of the problem,” she said. “They didn’t even count correctly how many existing parking places there are, and they didn’t adequately break down different areas so that we had a better sense of where the parking problems were.”

Some of Hartmann’s suggestions for improving the parking situation included a permit system, affordable long-term parking and discouraging students from bringing cars from their hometowns.

Field cited inventory-taking efforts conducted in Santa Ynez and Los Olivos as examples of action that could help alleviate parking congestion, but added, “I don’t know the situation on the ground in Isla Vista enough to tell you tonight what the answer is.”

Porter stated his support for a comprehensive parking system established under a potential CSD. Two measures pertaining to formation of the district will appear on the ballot this November.

Freeman added that a parking system under a CSD would be impossible without support from the county. “We’re constructing a community services district here in Isla Vista,” he said, “but we actually are not allowed to construct a parking district unless the county agrees, unless the Board of Supervisors does it.” Freeman added that, as supervisor, he would support whatever efforts the CSD deemed appropriate.

He jokingly suggested that innovations in technology could be what ends up solving the problem. “Maybe this is a temporary problem. If Google gave us those self-driving cars in another five years, we can just have them all go park themselves somewhere,” he quipped before adding: “but parking is something that is going to have to be solved as a local issue. It’s something that we’re going to have to actually sit down and work together [on].”

Jones agreed that community involvement will be key to solving the problem, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will like the solution. “Sometimes the solution is going to make people unhappy,” she said. “The parking solution will have to come from the college and the community working together.”

The deadline to register to vote in the June 7 election is May 23.