Isla Vista residents have an opportunity to decide the future of their self-governance this election day. Since the 1970s, students and community members have periodically tried to create self-governance for Isla Vista as a way to improve the community and compensate for neglect by Santa Barbara County. Decades of turmoil and student struggle culminated in a county-level “yes” vote in 2016 on Measure E, creating a Community Services District to serve the area.
However, Measure F, the bill that would have funded the CSD with an 8 percent utility tax, failed to pass. This year, Isla Vista residents will vote on Measure R, a bill that would fully fund the CSD with a similar 8 percent utility tax to that proposed by measure F and enable the CSD, which 87.14 percent of Isla Vista residents voted in favor of, to dramatically improve the community.
Cracked, decrepit roads, poorly lit streets, and curbs packed with cars bumper to bumper have long characterized Isla Vista as much as its iconic coastline. Isolated from the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta, the densely populated square mile containing I.V. has been an unincorporated district for most of its existence, dependent on Santa Barbara County and a mix of other organizations for municipal services.
Poor infrastructure, crumbling housing, and high crime rates (Isla Vista accounts for 7 percent of Santa Barbara County’s total population but for 25 percent of its crime!) to this day illustrate the degree of success I.V’s hodge-podge of service providers achieved in maintaining the unincorporated district. Unfortunately, even though Isla Vista finally has some form of direct governance, the CSD cannot significantly improve the community without full funding.
Measure E specifies eight kinds of services the CSD can provide, including tenant mediation, infrastructure construction and maintenance such as that of streets and lighting, and the powers of a parking district. Rather than fully addressing its mandate, the CSD’s board has been largely absorbed with administrative issues, largely revolving around the organization’s lack of funding.
Opponents to Measure R have spread propaganda throughout Isla Vista in the form of fliers threatening residents that their rents will rise if the tax passes. Furthermore, some fliers claim the CSD is fully capable of accomplishing its mission with the funding it currently has.
Both claims are unfounded at best and downright manipulative at worst. Regarding the cost, each Isla Vista resident would pay an average of $27.90 per year, assuming that renters rather property owners bear the full tax burden. In fact, most renters will certainly not bear the full burden of an 8 percent utilities tax, as many only pay for some of their utilities.
Measure R will tax “gas, water, electricity, sewer, and garbage disposal services generating approximately $642,000/year,” according to ballotpedia. The 2010 census found approximately 23,009 people live in Isla Vista; divide the expected revenue from the tax by the population and you get the tax per person: $27.90. That estimate is almost certainly conservatively high, as the population in Isla Vista has most likely grown significantly since 2010.
The expected $642,000 in revenue raised by Measure R would transform the CSD’s ability to provide services. As of now, the CSD is operating on a 2017-2018 fiscal year budget of $102,016, mostly funded by other government agencies and grants. Half of that budget was consumed by various kinds of administrative costs such as office expenses, various work services, and rent. Most of these administrative costs are fixed, meaning they will not rise proportionally as the budget increases.
Although the CSD has made some accomplishments on such a small budget, such as expanding the Community Service Organization escort program and sponsoring a survivor resource center in Isla Vista in partnership with Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA), it has refrained from pursuing more ambitious projects due to lack of funding. No significant progress has been made on major infrastructure improvements in Isla Vista. Even for some of its public commitments to provide money, such as the CSD’s partnership with SASA, the CSD has no budget projections, according to Emily Montalvo-Telford, SASA’s director, in an email interview.
Isla Vista residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of creating the CSD in the hope of transforming their community for the better. Measure F nearly passed last year, with 61.22 percent of residents voting in favor of the utility tax that would have funded the CSD, only five percentage points below the two-thirds supermajority required in California to raise taxes. If local residents want to see their community become safer, cleaner, better-lit, with better public facilities and programs available to all at a low cost per resident, they will vote yes on Measure R at the ballot box on June 5.