Cautions of I.V. Cliffs: Looking Long Beyond the Capps Safety Plan

Photo by Houston Sasselli. A danger sign on a fence along Del Playa Drive that reads: “Danger Cliff, Do Not Enter, Risk of Serious Injury or Death”

Houston Sasselli

News Editor

With the recent death of Santa Barbara City College student Benny Schurmer and the long-term erosion of the cliffs threatening both the lives of the community as well as the property surrounding the seaside, it seems that the biggest concerns for I.V. are the cliffs and their looming presence. Edhat Santa Barbara reported on County Supervisor Laura Capps’ plan to prevent future cliff tragedies in collaboration with UC Santa Barbara’s Associated Students. They installed a number of helpful conveniences along the cliffs including new bathrooms, lighting, and warning signs, along with an increase in surveillance. There is still a larger problem at play: how long will those cliffsides last, even with the new support?

Benny Schurmer was not the first tragedy related to the cliffs, and — if more isn’t done — he may not be the last. Beth Krom, the former Mayor of Irvine and mother of Noah Krom, who died in 2009 to a cliff fall, said in an interview with News Channel 12-3-11 that “They almost seem to rely on the fact that those populations will cycle out every four years and that nobody will remember the last time somebody fell.” The recent tragedy, thus, has a long history of which has not been accounted for. With 13 individuals passing away in bluff-related incidents in the past 30 years, the community as a whole has neglected some of the safety concerns surrounding the cliffs; Benny Schurmer and Noah Krom will not be forgotten as the community now is looking to take action. 

Isla Vista District Board recently endorsed Laura Capps’ plan to improve bluff safety and according to Noozhawk is making plans to install lighting on the sides of the cliff, more warning signs for cliff safety, and higher fencing, as well as bathrooms along Del Playa Drive in a plan of nearly $15,000. A part of Supervisor Capps’ eight-point plan is to raise the mandatory height for railings and fencing on both county land and private property. Another proposal in the plan is motion sensor lighting to ensure the coastal views are still able to be enjoyed, but in a safe manner. Furthermore, the crucial aspect is the education of students at both UCSB and SBCC on cliff safety. There are also plans to install a memorial for the 13 individuals who have passed away. 

In all cases, it is the hope that the community might drink more responsibly and look out for their own personal safety as well as for others while the community looks out for them. 

Yet, there seems to be a larger problem lingering by the oceanside: the receding cliffs. The erosion continues to threaten the larger area of Del Playa Drive, which is lined with homes filled to the brim with dozens of students. A student needn’t go beyond Manzanita Beach to feel the rocks fall on their head while looking out at the Santa Barbara sunset. In a 2017 article by the Santa Barbara Independent, it was found through a pair of property line surveys in 1965 and 1984 that the I.V. cliffs retreat at a rate between 2 and 14 inches a year. To put that into perspective: from a student’s first year to graduation during their fourth year, the cliffs may recede on a low of 8 inches to a high of 56 inches. 

Thus, building the fences and creating an eight-point plan presents an answer to only half of the problem in I.V., as the fences would have to retreat with the cliffs and properties. I.V.  stands at a pivotal crossroads as a community that cherishes its unity and embraces its traditions while grappling with a looming, natural threat. The recent tragedy, as well as the persistent erosion of the cliffs, has stirred a collective awareness of the need for decisive and sustained action. Supervisor Capps’ comprehensive plan, as endorsed by the Isla Vista District Board, represents a significant step in the right direction and offers hope that enhanced safety measures and a steadfast commitment to preserving the memories of those lost will guide the community towards a safer and more secure future.

Though as I.V. moves forward, it’s vital to recognize that the challenges posed by the cliffs’ retreat are ongoing and that finding solutions that adapt to this ever-changing landscape is imperative. The community’s resilience and determination, in the face of both natural and human-made challenges, are admirable. By joining forces, nurturing collective memory, and fostering a sense of responsibility for one another, I.V. can continue to be a vibrant and secure home for generations of students to come. 

But the community itself may have to put their fun times aside to address the real concern: if they want to continue to live on the cliffs, they have to face the problem in front of them instead of letting it erode their memories.