Shomik Mukherjee
Executive Managing Editor

The board of directors of the newly formed Isla Vista Community Services District held its inaugural meeting Tuesday evening, electing Ethan Bertrand and Natalie Jordan as its leadership and discussing steps to solidify the CSD’s formation. Bertrand will serve as the board’s president and Jordan as vice president.

Tuesday’s meeting took place at 6 p.m. in the Community Room of the I.V. Community Resource Building. Running over six hours, the inaugural meeting saw I.V. self-governance realized for the very first time after a years-long battle to make it happen. The seven directors met nearly four months after the CSD was voted through as a measure on the Nov. 2016 ballot.

On the same election night, voters failed to pass a user utility tax that would have funded the CSD. Now, the board must get to work without much of the money it had hoped for.

Bertrand’s election as the board’s president came shortly after all seven directors were sworn in. The other directors cited his work and dedication as a deciding factor.

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Bertrand said he was “humbled” by the swift, unanimous decision. “I appreciate it so much,” he said. “I can’t say I completely understand it, but I have a lot to learn.”

Bertrand himself then recommended director Spencer Brandt for the title of vice president. But the other directors decided Brandt, a second-year history of public policy major, should be the board’s secretary, and instead elected Jordan as vice president. Several directors agreed Jordan’s election would lend the board more diversity of thought, as Brandt and Bertrand have previously worked closely together.

Jordan’s election came upon the nomination of director Jay Freeman. As a general consensus, the directors agreed that Jordan, who also serves as Internal Vice President of Associated Students, would put her experience presiding over the A.S. Senate to good use in facilitating discussion between the directors. Jordan said she was surprised by the board’s decision.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” she said in an interview with The Bottom Line. “It was quite the curveball for me.”

Jordan, a third-year history of public policy and political science double major, emphasized that Brandt would have been a qualified vice president. She also noted that her work in A.S. and with the CSD will have a good deal of “overlap,” and called the relationship between her duties “synergistic.”

Funding

The meeting’s first hours were marked by camaraderie, as several people involved with the CSD’s inception openly celebrated its newfound existence. Santa Barbara City College trustee and University of California, Santa Barbara alum Jonathan Abboud expressed his excitement with the CSD.

“It’s proof that organized community with a vision can undo a political truth,” Abboud said. “Political truths are not real.”

But without the user utility tax, the CSD will have far less money than Abboud had envisioned for it. And if the CSD does not secure the tax by 2023, it may go out of existence entirely. In an interview, Abboud said the failure of the tax measure on election night was “obviously disappointing.”

“We were upset,” he said. “There were other things that happened that night,” he noted, “that kind of eclipsed the measures.”

Speaking in a public comment at the meeting, Abboud said the lack of tax is “an opportunity, not an obstacle.” He mentioned a fundraising drive that would raise money for the CSD. He also said the CSD could ask I.V. residents to pay a voluntary tax, and noted the vast alumni network of UCSB students could help to “get the CSD off the ground.”

Currently, the board has $25,000 from a private donor to set up a Public Service Internship Program, along with $3,000 from Santa Barbara County Third District Supervisor’s office to fund a Municipal Advisory Council. The MAC would serve as an advisory council between the CSD and the SBC Board of Supervisors.

The biggest source of revenue for the CSD, however, is a fund of $200,000 from UCSB. Director George Thurlow, the university’s official appointee to the CSD board, made it clear during the meeting that the money is not simply a direct deposit into the CSD’s account. Instead, the $200,000 must be used for projects specified by the university itself.

Community Voices Concerns

Public comments at Tuesday’s meeting gave the board its first taste of the concerns of I.V. residents. One speaker expressed alarm over recent raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement near Santa Barbara. Another alerted the board to white supremacy posters that were reportedly found at Santa Barbara City College last month. Speakers called for the board to take a stand in defending both undocumented and transgender I.V. residents.

In a moment that brought the room to complete silence, one speaker said she had been raped on Jan. 7 in I.V., and alleged that the District Attorney’s office had not given her case a look in the two months since she had filed it, even after turning in evidence of the crime. The speaker urged the board to “protect” I.V., noting that rape has been perpetuated on I.V. streets.

“Rape is not a culture, it’s a crime, and we allow it to be here,” the speaker said. She went on to say that she would keep fighting and surviving for herself, even if the board chose not to help. Her speech stirred a hefty round of applause from those attending, and the newly-elected president Bertrand stood up to clap. Later, Bertrand reflected on what she had said.

“I commend her bravery,” Bertrand said. “I’m so sorry for what she has gone through.”

Early County, Campus Conflict

Not every position on the CSD board is the same. Five were elected on Nov. 8, while George Thurlow was appointed by the university and Robert Geis by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. Geis ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Goleta Water District board of directors in 2016, and worked for 25 years as the county’s auditor-controller.  

Santa Barbara Assemblymember Monique Limón had introduced in February Assembly Bill 722, which would amend the existing AB 3 (the original CSD bill) by making a County Supervisor and CSD director “compatible offices,” according to an agenda published by the CSD prior to the meeting. The bill would essentially recognize Geis’ position as one working in-between the county and the CSD board of directors.

Some, like director Jay Freeman, opposed the bill, seeing it as a dangerous overlap between the county and the CSD. Further, Freeman said it would grant the county power to interfere with Geis’ position should he do something on the CSD board that the county does not like. Geis himself supported the legislation.  

“I volunteered because I like this place and I have a history with this place,” Geis said, affirming his commitment to the board in accordance with his role in the county.

Meanwhile, one speaker challenged Thurlow on his position, saying I.V. is “outside the university’s jurisdiction.” The board did not address the concerns at the meeting, but Thurlow himself touched on it in an interview afterward.

“What we agreed,” Thurlow said, “was to provide the CSD roughly what it would have collected in user utility tax had our students been in the district.” He noted that the current $200,000 from the university is almost the only source of financial support. The revenue makes the university a crucial component of the CSD’s financial support.  

As part of his role as a UCSB appointee, Thurlow will report back to Chancellor Henry Yang. Thurlow spoke warmly about the chancellor, saying Yang is “personally concerned about the safety of every one of his students.” On a final note, he praised the students as well.

“Everybody realizes that the students have made this huge difference since 2014,” Thurlow said.

Future CSD meetings will be held in the same room on the first and third Tuesdays of the month.

Shomik Mukherjee
Shomik Mukherjee has worked at The Bottom Line since the first week of his first year at UCSB. In his spare time, he enjoys telling people that. Mukherjee can be reached at news@bottomlineucsb.com.