Recently introduced California State Assembly Bill 3 (AB 3) could fundamentally change the way unincorporated Isla Vista governs itself and provide a road map for other unincorporated communities to gain more local control.
I’ve been studying many different ways that unincorporated communities could govern themselves, and the Eden Area Liveability Initiative (EALI) has been talking about different options for years. Now, recent events in Isla Vista – the unincorporated home of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), has spawned a new proposal with unheard of speed. A mass shooting last May, combined with a recent spate of riots, student deaths and sexual assaults have accelerated the debate on governance that has simmered for the last 40 years. Isla Vista was home to one of the original MACs in the 1970s, and helped develop the framework for MACs statewide, including our own.
Eventually though, Isla Vista’s MAC was disbanded. Incorporation was declared economically infeasible in 1972, 1975 and 1983, and Isla Vista was purposely left out of the adjacent City of Goleta when it incorporated in 2001 because the addition would have made incorporation “politically infeasible.”
Isla Vista is very unique for an unincorporated community. Over 20,000 residents (mostly college students,) are crammed into a one-square-mile area. The majority of buildings are multi-unit, and there is very little business or sales tax generating activity. Recent events prompted UCSB to form an advisory committee to evaluate Isla Vista and make recommendations on creating a new, safe environment. The committee’s main recommendation was that the State create a Community Services District (CSD) with “potential powers of infrastructure, utilities, garbage, police services, parks, recreation, cultural facilities, fire, security and roads.”
CSDs are typically organized by a County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and authorised by California State Code 61000, (last revised in 2005) and they are meant to serve specific purposes for local residents. There are 31 specific services that CSDs may provide, ranging from sewer and trash collection, to mosquito abatement and cemetery maintenance. Here in Castro Valley, we are served by the Castro Valley Sanitary District, and the Eden Township Healthcare District – both CSDs established under that code. Code 61000 even specifically calls CSDs a “form of governance that can serve as an alternative to the incorporation of a new city.”
Some of the unique problems that Isla Vista faces can only be solved with powers not among the designated 31 services designated for CSDs in the California State Code. AB 3 would create an Isla Vista CSD that includes these additional powers:
- Rent control/tenant mediation
- Having the powers of a parking district
- Ability to contract out directly to other law enforcement agencies for heightened service over and above what Santa Barbara County already allocates to Isla Vista.
- Ability to finance and run both a Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) and an Area Planning Commission (APC), which would make binding land use decisions for the town.
This Isla Vista Community Service Area would truly serve as a virtual city.
AB 3 is using code 61105(a) from the CSD law as its basis for forming this new CSD:
61105. (a) The Legislature finds and declares that the unique circumstances that exist in some communities justify the enactment of special statutes for specific districts. In enacting this section, the Legislature intends to provide specific districts with special statutory powers to provide special services and facilities that are not available to other districts. “
This existing code shows that the state has already discovered that certain unique situations will call for unique CSDs. The code shows well over 20 CSDss statewide which have already been granted “enhanced” services, ranging from cable television and electricity distribution to sales of gasoline. Isla Vista would be the first “unique” CSD to be implemented since the CSD code was rewritten in 2005.
The decision about what taxing powers the CSD would have is ongoing, and not yet included in the proposed bill. Many different types of taxes have been discussed, including utility user taxes and occupancy taxes. Regardless, enacting the CSD through legislation rather than the typical LAFCO process gives them great flexibility in what they decide upon.
The initial version of the bill was just published on March 26 and will likely see many revisions and alterations. Assemblyman Das Williams, who is the sponsor of AB 3, is holding weekly status meetings in the community about the bill.
We at Castro Valley Matters will be closely following all developments, as an “enhanced” CSD could develop into a great option for Castro Valley governance.
Here is the full text of the proposed bill as of March 26, 2015:
(1) The Isla Vista Community Services District shall be established in accordance with all other provisions of this division, except as provided in this subdivision.
(2) Section 61100 shall not apply to the Isla Vista Community Services District. The district may, within its boundaries, do any of the following:
- (A) Finance the operations of municipal advisory councils line 40 formed pursuant to Section 31010.
- (B) Create a tenant mediation program.
- (C) Finance the operations of area planning commissions formed pursuant to Section 65101.
- (D) Exercise the powers of a parking district, in the same manner as a parking district formed pursuant to the Parking District Law of 1951 (Part 4 (commencing with Section 35100) of Division 18 of the Streets and Highways Code).
- (E) Contract with the County of Santa Barbara or the Regents of the University of California, or both, for additional police protection services above the level of police protection services already provided by either the County of Santa Barbara or the Regents of the University of California within the area of the district.
- (F) Acquire, construct, improve, maintain, and operate community facilities, including, but not limited to, community centers, libraries, theaters, museums, cultural facilities, and child care facilities.
- (G) Acquire, construct, improve, and maintain sidewalks, lighting, gutters, and trees. The district shall not acquire, construct, improve, or maintain any work owned by another public agency unless that other public agency gives its written consent.
- (H) Abate graffti.
(3) The Isla Vista Community Services District shall not have the power to organize, promote, conduct, or advertise programs of community recreation in the same manner as the Isla Vista Parks and Recreation District. SEC. 3. The Legislature finds and declares that a special law is necessary and that a general law cannot be made applicable within the meaning of Section 16 of Article IV of the California Constitution because of the unique community needs in the Isla Vista area that would be served by the Isla Vista Community Services District.”