How the Isla Vista Master Plan Fails the Community
by Carmen Lodise, a community activist in Isla Vista for nearly 30 years. During the ’70s, he served on the Isla Vista Community Council and the Isla Vista Park Board. His Isla Vista: A Citizen’s History is available at islavistahistory.com.
Isla Vista got hosed again two weeks ago, after getting hosed pretty good last June. Both of these are follow-ups to the Big Hosing of about 40 years ago.
Ever wonder why I.V. apartments are packed together, with little off-street parking, and some structures are built so close to the bluff they’re falling into the ocean piece by piece? Back in the ’60s, a couple of UC Regents owned large properties in or near Isla Vista. Decisions were made to leave I.V. for private development and to maintain UCSB’s enrollment at 25,000. This set off a building boom in Isla Vista, which was mostly financed by a Goleta-based savings and loan with a board of directors that included agents of these landowning regents and the UCSB chancellor. The county did its part when the supervisors created zoning allowing shorter setbacks and fewer parking spaces per bedroom than anywhere else in the state.
The university and county fought like cats and dogs to keep Isla Vista under each of their iron fists, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fend off three widely supported campaigns throughout the ’70s and ’80s to form a City of Isla Vista. An elected city government, you see, would likely force absentee landlords to keep up their properties, police officers to treat all residents humanely, and an auto-centered transportation system to be mostly replaced by a bike-centered one — all things offensive to the local ruling classes. For example, one supervisor at the time was a Ford dealer. All three campaigns to hold an election on establishing a City of Isla Vista were defeated 4-1 by a county panel that was 4‑1 Republican during an era when more than 75 percent of Isla Vistans voted Democratic.
It was never clear why the university fought Isla Vista self-government so fiercely. But what does it say about an institution that doesn’t trust the brightest young people in the state to govern themselves in a small town of 20,000 people? Especially since the university/county cabal was doing such a lousy job. After all, the UC Regents’ own study of the causes of the traumatic civil disturbances of 1968-70 blamed the university itself for “failing to create a viable university community.”
But by the 1990s, the jig was up. With encouragement from UCSB, the county declared Isla Vista so “blighted” that it established the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) in I.V. with a long-term budget of nearly $80 million. Many student and community leaders saw this as an opportunity to greatly improve the quality of life for generations to come. But what actually happened? The draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the I.V. Master Plan came out last spring, with public hearings set during Dead Week (the week prior to finals). How insulting to a community that’s roughly half students! Adding insult to injury, the proposed final EIR came out just before Thanksgiving, with hearings set to continue through Dead Week and finals. We can safely assume that the Planning Department of a City of Isla Vista would better accommodate student schedules.
Even more appalling is that the draft EIR studied only car-friendly options and dedicated 60 percent of the redevelopment money available during the first few years to adding parking structures — this in a town that has long supported auto-reduction as a major community goal. Because of this, several former elected officials in I.V., including myself, officially requested the final EIR include an auto-reduction alternative. Some of our suggestions — which eliminated at least 10 of the two dozen negative environmental impacts of the plan — included closing off the downtown district to auto traffic, keeping open the east-west streets to serve it, and opening up the eastern streets to Ocean Road on the UCSB Main Campus. We also suggested banning undergraduates from having cars, as many universities already do, and a wider use of speed bumps in the 6600 blocks.
In this era of global warming, Isla Vista is the perfect place to teach people how to get along without the automobile. After all, the town is only one-half square mile in size; has a mostly college-student population, 70 percent of which is between the ages of 18 and 24; and is a place where traffic on bicycles greatly exceeds that via cars and where about 95 percent of private property is absentee-owned. All of this has been true for more than 35 years and will most likely remain true for the next 35.
Our requests have been ignored in the proposed final EIR. A chance for the county to finally get it right in Isla Vista has been squandered for the benefit of propertied interests rather than the wider community. That’s why the county doesn’t want the vast majority of Isla Vista residents to see what it’s doing. These hosings will continue until Isla Vista becomes a city.
( Photo courtesy of UCSB )
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