Isla Vista is an unincorporated community in Santa Barbara County, California, United States. As of the 2000 census, it had a population of 18,344. The majority of residents are college students at nearby UC Santa Barbara or at Santa Barbara City College. The beach-side community is a census-designated place west of the University of California, Santa Barbara, on a flat plateau about in elevation, separated from the beach by a bluff. Many paths connect the town to the beach.
Isla Vista enjoys a Mediterranean climate and often has slightly less precipitation than either Santa Barbara or the adjacent community of Goleta. Isla Vista is located on a south-facing portion of the Santa Barbara County coast, between two small peninsulas, Coal Oil Point and Campus Point, in view of the Channel Islands. During El Niño years, precipitation in Isla Vista can be excessive and potentially dangerous. Some homes and apartments built on the south side of Del Playa Drive, most popular with students due to their direct ocean views, are in danger of collapse, since they are built on quickly-eroding bluffs thirty to sixty feet above the relentless Pacific Ocean. Recent erosion has exposed foundation supports in several of the properties closest to the university campus, UCSB.
Isla Vista is one of the higher-priced housing markets on the south coast of Santa Barbara county, which has some of the highest housing prices in the United States (the mean home price in Santa Barbara, ten miles (16 km) east, passed $1,000,000 in June 2004); this situation has resulted in the student population sharing densely packed housing with a working Hispanic population. Since Isla Vista has not been annexed by either Goleta or Santa Barbara, remaining unincorporated, only County funds are available for civic projects. Students commonly pay $500-800 per month for half a bedroom.
Traditionally, Isla Vista is the area 'in the box' formed by El Colegio Road to the north, Ocean Road to the east, the beach to the south, and Camino Majorca to the west. The 2000 census showed 13,465 residents in this area of about . The CDP or `census-designated place ' includes the UCSB campus, Storke Ranch, and the area between Los Carneros and Storke Road north to Hollister Avenue, and shows a population near 20,000 and land area of . In the 2000 census, a mistake was made, and about 2,000 UCSB dorm residents listed as residing at the Santa Barbara Airport, and thus were outside the CDP. Starting in 2010, much of the land in the old Isla Vista CDP will be removed and put in the City of Goleta.
Isla Vista is actually the name of the first subdivision made in the center of the area now called Isla Vista; properly, the Isla Vista subdivision is between Camino Pescadero on the east and Camino Corto on the west. The Isla Vista subdivision was established in 1925, the Ocean Terrace subdivision between UCSB and Camino Pescadero in 1926, and the Orilla del Mar subdivision between Camino Corto and the UCSB West Campus in 1926 also. A number of east-west streets undergo `jogs' at the boundaries of the three subdivisions, because Santa Barbara County never required the three subdivisions to use a common street layout. The three subdivisions now are collectively called Isla Vista, and their total extent occupies land inherited by Augusto Den, a descendant of the family that received a Mexican land grant.
In the recent incorporation of Goleta, inland to the north and up the coast to the west, Isla Vista was deliberately excluded. The LAFCO executive director cited `political infeasibility' as the reason, although the only poll on the issue indicated a city of Goleta including Isla Vista would have passed at the ballot box.
Isla Vista is located at 34°24'53" North, 119°51'38" West (34.414595, -119.860418).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 2.2 square miles (5.7 km²), of which, 2.1 square miles (5.5 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.2 km²) of it is water. The total area is 3.64% water.
Den's descendant Alfonso Den inherited the land now called Isla Vista; he and some of his nine siblings were plaintiffs in a famous law suit, because when they were minors their land had been illegally sold in 1869 by the administrator of their estate, Charles E. Huse, to Col. William Welles Hollister, namesake of Hollister Avenue in Goleta, the Hollister Ranch, and Hollister, California. A San Francisco lawyer, Thomas B. Bishop, who specialized in checking for legal problems associated with transfers of Mexican land rights, sued Hollister on behalf of the Den children in 1876, and won the case in 1885. Bishop took much of the prime land owned by the Den children as a legal fee, and to this day some of that land, in the City of Goleta near Glen Annie Road, is called the Bishop Ranch. The least attractive land was left to the Den children, and that included the Rincon Ranch, which was at that time the name of the entire Isla Vista mesa, from present-day UCSB west to Coal Oil Point. The Rincon (Spanish for angle or corner) is the corner where Storke Road turns into El Colegio; until 1930 or so, Storke to El Colegio was the only road in to Isla Vista, because other roads such as Los Carneros or Ward Memorial did not exist, because the Goleta Slough prevented passage. The Rincon Ranch had very little fresh water, was marginal for agriculture, and was split between three of the Den children: Augusto Den, who had mental disabilities, got the land that now forms the UCSB Main Campus and Alfonso got the land that is now Isla Vista.
Alfonso Den's land eventually passed on to local land speculators, and was divided into the three subdivisions mentioned under Geography in the mid-1920s. The Isla Vista subdivisions are the earliest urban subdivisions performed in the Goleta Valley in the 20th century. The narrow streets of Isla Vista are characteristic of 1920s land planning. Plans for water, electricity, road building, and sewage were not made in the 1920s; the subdivision was speculative. Some of the speculation was related to ocean-front real estate, but an equally important motive was the likelihood of oil reserves being accessible from Isla Vista property. To aid speculation, the lots in the subdivision were narrow, and mineral rights were pooled among blocks of lots. Some oil was found, but the wells did not sustain oil production, unlike the very productive Ellwood Oil Field just to the west of Isla Vista. Royalties from the Ellwood field paid for a large portion of the costs of construction of Santa Barbara County's famed Courthouse. An oil deposit about one mile (1.6 km) south of Isla Vista under the Santa Barbara Channel known as the 'South Ellwood' field was eventually found, but has never been fully developed, due to local political opposition after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. The South Ellwood field contains upward of of oil, and attempts by ARCO (in the 1980s) and by Mobil (in the 1990s) to develop the field have been rebuffed by local opposition.
Even though the Isla Vista lots were sold to several hundred owners in the 1920s, only a few vacation cottages were built before the 1940s. Scarcity of water, which had to be trucked in, as well as primitive sewage and refuse collection kept the development modest. A few dirt farmers raised beans, and piled their refuse into large heaps.
The Marine Corps Air facility was deemed superfluous after World War II, and the airport was transferred to the City of Santa Barbara, while the blufftop barracks and land were transferred to the University of California in 1948 for the new Santa Barbara Campus (UCSB). The original vision for UCSB entailed a small, 3000-student campus, that would be contained on the blufftop site, and it seemed neighboring Isla Vista would develop into a mixture of single family dwellings and apartments for staff. Water became available from a reservoir in the Santa Ynez Mountains, Lake Cachuma, in the early 1950s. The homeowners who moved in organized the Isla Vista Sanitary District in 1954, which now is called the Goleta West Sanitary District.
Kuebler was a prominent leader in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) and helped establish Isla Vista's first church, St. Michael and All Angel's at Camino Pescadero and Picasso. Isla Vista has always had a vibrant religious community, and includes 7 religious institutions and a variety of religious study groups. One church, St. Athanasius, evolved out of the devotion of Isla Vista residents.
Although Isla Vista had been subdivided in the 1920s, it did not yet have zoning. A battle ensued in the early 1950s between the homeowners who wanted a mixture of single-family dwellings and apartments, and the non-resident property owners who wanted the maximum density possible. The non-resident property owners won, and all three Isla Vista subdivisions were zoned for apartments. Eventually the Orilla del Mar subdivision on the western edge of Isla Vista was rezoned for single family dwellings, but a rancorous relationship between the apartment developers and the homeowners was established. Today, only a few percent of Isla Vista's property owners are residents.
It became clear the young people from the post-WWII baby boom would flood the University of California, and the original vision of UCSB as a small, self-contained, liberal arts campus would be inadequate. In the late 1950s, Clark Kerr, President of UC, revisioned UCSB to be a general campus like UC Berkeley. Samuel B. Gould was appointed the first UCSB Chancellor in 1959. The first UCSB plans that acknowledged Isla Vista were developed under Gould, who expressed concern that Isla Vista was an impediment to the orderly development of the area, due to its already haphazard development. Gould left UCSB in 1962, and later became Chancellor of the State University of New York.
The development of Isla Vista as a place of lodging for UCSB students attending a much grander institution commenced, initially with regulated dormitories along El Colegio Road. UCSB administrators actually recruited developers to build the large complexes on El Colegio, which in 1960 were thought to be forward-looking and modern, and even won design awards. A legend that UCSB administrators were profiteering from development of Isla Vista started in part due to these activities. Some of these dorms were portrayed in the mystery novels of Ross Macdonald.
There are a variety of legends concerning who profited from the development of Isla Vista. One legend identifies the Mafia. Another identifies UCSB administrators, as earlier mentioned. Additionally, a local alternative Isla Vista newspaper, Probe, accused UCSB Chancellor Vernon Cheadle, because he sat on the board of a local savings and loan that made many loans to the Isla Vista developers. Probe never had evidence that Cheadle received money beyond honoraria for serving on the board, however. A persistent rumor that Cheadle and other administrators actually owned property through complicated intermediaries, who concealed the true ownership, survives to this day. Some faculty and administrators did openly own and develop property in Isla Vista, but they constituted at most a few percent of Isla Vista's landowners. Because Isla Vista had been subdivided into many small lots there were approximately 500 property owners of Isla Vista land in the 1950s. It is hard to discern any pattern to the development of Isla Vista beyond an anarchic group of landowners, each with small holdings, and all seeking a profit, a pattern that persists to the present day. A few of the non-resident landowners participate in civic affairs in Isla Vista, and, in general, those landowners provide the best rental units for their tenants. However, the majority of landowners are uninvolved, and the attractiveness of their units arises only from the proximity to UCSB, the beach, and to other young people.
By 1967, Isla Vista had hundreds of cheaply constructed multiple dwelling units, and a commercial center that included physician and dental offices, jewelers, insurance and financial offices, as well as eclectic bookstores and an art-house movie theater. Trees and landscaping had not grown to appreciable heights, giving the town a barren look, and trash collected in empty lots. About that time the youth culture or counterculture ramped up, and Isla Vista became a natural waystation for youth who were hitchhiking up and down the coast of California.
Richard Brautigan did his first reading of `Trout Fishing in America' in Isla Vista in October 1967, at the Unicorn Book Shop. The Unicorn Book Shop and its affiliated Press were patronized by Ken Maytag, an heir of the Maytag family of washing machine and beer fame; the Press published a number of noted poets. However, the surrounding Santa Barbara community was uncomfortable with the flotsam and jetsam of the counterculture who were pausing in Isla Vista, and at about the same time the District Attorney raided the art-house movie theater, the Magic Lantern, while it showed a movie containing full frontal nudity. The operators were charged with obscenity, lost financing, and then lost their business. County Sheriffs Deputies were uncomfortable with the open marijuana use and drug dealing on the streets, and tensions grew. It is local folklore that Jim Morrison of the Doors wrote the song `Crystal Ship' one night while on an acid trip on Sands Beach, watching the bright lights on the oil Platform Holly a few miles off the southwest tip of Isla Vista.
In 1969, Edie Sedgwick, the famed companion to Andy Warhol, lived in Isla Vista, in part because of a community of methamphetamine users in Isla Vista at that time. Sedgwick's brother lived on Fortuna Road; her family lived on a ranch near Santa Ynez, which is now part of the University of California Natural Reserve System. She met Lance Loud, the young gay man who was depicted in the PBS series An American Family on the beach at the foot of El Embarcadero. Loud, already a correspondent of Warhol's, was ogling fraternity boys playing volleyball when he saw Sedgwick walking her dog and recognized her. Two years later, Edie Sedgwick attended a fashion show at the Santa Barbara Art Museum filmed by An American Family, then returned home and accidentally overdosed on barbiturates. She is buried in Ballard, California near Solvang.
A student group known as the "IV League," organized itself to take civic responsibility for Isla Vista, and coordinated street parties, meetings with the Deputies, cleanups, and planting of street trees. However, in 1968, a number of incidents between the small community of African-American students attending UCSB and law enforcement, as well as the election of Richard Nixon triggered a long downward spiral for Isla Vista, which culminated in three separate riots (IV I, II, and III) in the Winter and Spring of 1970. The IV League was viewed as too moderate, and lost influence. The local branch building of the Bank of America was burned to the ground by students in IV I on February 25, 1970, after a charge of rock-throwing students drove law enforcement officers out of town. A student, Kevin Moran, who put out a fire in the temporary Bank of America during IV II in April 1970 was accidentally killed by police fire, and during IV III in June 1970 Los Angeles County Sheriffs Deputies ran amok, prompting criticism from no less than noted conservative William F. Buckley, Jr..
The national notoriety brought by the 1970 riots attracted a number of enthusiastic community builders to Isla Vista. the community came together, primarily via the now-defunct Isla Vista Community Council, which was funded by the University, but ran its own elections and provided a central focus for the community. During this era there were many alternative organizations created, including the second free clinic in the State after the original Haight Asbury Free Clinic. The Isla Vista Recreation and Park District was founded in 1972, and it is only the second special district started in Isla Vista with authority to exercise certain governmental powers (the first was the Isla Vista Sanitary District, now known as the Goleta West Sanitary District). It was also during this era that the Isla Vista Fud Cooperative was created, and a credit union based on geography for membership was founded. The Community Council implemented a variety of other services, including animal control, but these projects languished due to lack of monetary support from County government.
Other alternative services as well as independent restaurants came into existence (Kinkos was founded in Isla Vista in 1970). Many traditional businesses, including dentists, jewelers, and hairdressers fled Isla Vista, but their absence was not missed. Isla Vista became sundered from the surrounding communities, and in the long run, most of the eclectic Isla Vista businesses have disappeared. One exception is the Isla Vista Fud Cooperative
Attempts at forming a City of Isla Vista were thwarted by a variety of stronger influences, ranging from the property owners to Santa Barbara County to UCSB and their own inexperience. Efforts to incorporate Isla Vista into its own City failed in 1973, 1975, and 1985, in each case due to a negative vote by LAFCO, the Local Agency Formation Commission. Isla Vista wielded considerable influence in the Goleta Water District, however, which covers a large area. The Isla Vista vote helped usher in the era (still going on) of no-growth policies in the nearby Goleta area, over the more conservative blocs of voters in Goleta, who at that time favored growth. Those Goleta residents gradually converted to the no-growth stance, but simultaneously they shun Isla Vista. In 2001, the residents of Goleta successfully persuaded LAFCO to exclude Isla Vista from the new City of Goleta, although many observers noted that Isla Vistans shop mostly in Goleta, because county planners channeled commercial business development into Goleta.
A vocal and organized group of Isla Vista residents argued for inclusion of Isla Vista in the new City of Goleta, but encountered strong opposition from the Chair and Executive Director of LAFCO. LAFCO enabled the City of Goleta to garner the tax revenue from Isla Vista's economic activity, without civic responsibility for Isla Vista's infrastructure. Some note also that Santa Barbara County gets net revenue from Isla Vista, and so has a financial interest in keeping Isla Vista out of a city. The official reason for the exclusion of Isla Vista given by the Executive Director of LAFCO was `political infeasibility.' The only wide poll of the greater Goleta area, conducted by the Goleta Roundtable, indicated that a city including Isla Vista would pass at the ballot box, however.
Starting in the 1970s, Isla Vista became more and more dominated by students from UCSB and nearby Santa Barbara City College. UCSB expanded its enrollment, and the economic power of the relatively affluent students drove non-student residents out. The late 1960s upheaval destroyed a raft of organized activities that once occupied students' time, and into the void a free-form party scene took hold, resulting in throngs of young people gathering on Friday and Saturday nights on Del Playa Drive, the street that hugs the southern blufftop of Isla Vista. Alcohol, once both unavailable and not as popular as drugs, started to be sold in Isla Vista, and became the drug of choice. Today, Isla Vista has a marked overabundance of alcohol distributors, and like most non-resident landowners, the alcohol business community does not participate in civic affairs.
The rise in the party culture in the late 1970s coincided with the most gruesome murders the community has ever known: three young women, Jacqueline Rook, Mary Sarris, and Patricia Laney disappeared in December, 1976 and January, 1977. Their bodies were found in the Santa Ynez Mountains, not far from Ronald Reagan's ranch, Rancho del Cielo; each had been raped and shot in the head. Their deaths were attributed to careless behavior of Isla Vista youth, in particular the tendency of some in that era to hitchhike. The local newspaper, the Santa Barbara News-Press, denigrated Patricia Laney's home on Fortuna Road, for which it later apologized in the UCSB student newspaper, and also suggested that Isla Vistans were not taxpayers (untrue), and opined that improved bus service to and from IV was not feasible. In fact, Patricia Laney campaigned against hitchhiking and against violence to women, and was a noted community volunteer. A yearly juggling festival in Isla Vista and UCSB is dedicated to her memory.
It turned out a young man who grew up in Solvang, Thor Nis Christiansen, was the murderer: he had been detained by Santa Barbara law enforcement in early 1977, and even had a pistol in his possession that was the same caliber as that used on the three young women. But he was released, and no progress toward finding the perpetrator was made in the Santa Barbara area. Eventually he was captured in Los Angeles in 1979 after a new victim escaped with a bullet wound in her head, and later met Christiansen in a bar. Neither Christiansen nor the community of Solvang received reprobation from the larger Santa Barbara community similar to that earlier directed at the three young victims and the community of Isla Vista; indeed, the News Press didn't report whether any of the victims were in fact hitchhiking, according to Christiansen, when he abducted them. A perceived pattern of the greater Santa Barbara community blaming Isla Vista and its residents for its travails, regardless of evidence and facts, was established.
Although Isla Vista is filled with 18–24 year-olds, there are very few commercial amenities for the population. Other commercial developments, such as a nearby mall (Camino Real Marketplace) and the lower State Street area of Santa Barbara have worked hard since the mid-1980s to attract Isla Vista's business, and the tax revenue associated with it. The economic development of Isla Vista has been neglected, and it remains mostly a bedroom community of young people, with an odd and eclectic commercial district.
The Isla Vista massacre occurred when UCSB freshman David Attias killed four students on the night of February 23, 2001 by slamming his car into several parked cars and pedestrians on the 6500 block of Sabado Tarde Road. Although initially charged with four counts of murder, four counts of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and five counts of felony driving under the influence, Attias was later found to be legally insane.
As of Summer 2006, four new restaurants opened in Isla Vista. The Mr. Pickles chain was brought to Isla Vista by three college students - one from UCSB, and two from SBCC. Berrilicious Frozen Yogurt and the freshStart cafe are the newest additions to the Isla Vista restaurant circuit.
Isla Vista is notable for its unique student culture, cultivated by a population largely made up of UCSB and Santa Barbara City College students. Heavy partying, outdoor festivals, and a generally enthusiastic environment have come to be synonymous with Isla Vista. Although the town's reputation has been tarnished by perceived debauchery, lawlessness and alcohol-related problems, it is a unique community in which a positive and energetic atmosphere prevails. Due to the large student population, coffee shops and local businesses are usually busy well past midnight, with some buzzing until 2am every night, and often staying open 24 hours around finals week. Further contributing to the quality of life, the principal mode of transportation to and from class and around town in Isla Vista is the bicycle, rather than the car. Bicycles dominate the streets of Isla Vista, with students riding to and from campus, and wetsuit-wearing riders transiting to local beaches with surfboards in their arms.
Major events that contribute to Isla Vista's mystique are the infamous Halloween celebrations, Earth Day festival, All-Sorority Volleyball Tournament (ASVT), Chilla Vista festival, Joint Rolling Contest, Island View Classic bike races, and others. Each of these events feature music, draw large crowds, and foster a strong sense of community as festival-goers generally meet many people whom they know, be it from classes or otherwise.
Isla Vista is a college community situated directly adjacent to the beach, and a strong beach culture is an important facet of the town's identity. On warm afternoons year-round, Isla Vista beach teems with hundreds of students, beer bottles generally in hand, who enjoy sunbathing, surfing, soccer, and other recreational activities in hopes of escaping the rigors of academic life. Residents who live on Del Playa Drive often climb from their homes down the cliffs to the beach to surf or relax on the beach, and everyone who lives in Isla Vista is within minutes of the beach by foot. During warm weather it is often not uncommon to see people pushing kegs on skateboards down the street.
Another positive aspect of the town's party culture often overlooked is the extremely low incidence of drunk driving for a college town, due to the town's compact layout and the popularity of biking and skateboarding. Residents who frequent the parties that take place every weekend in the town regularly walk to and from parties with friends, and it is very rare for someone to arrive at a party by car. Residents of Isla Vista who are over 21 years of age often go to downtown Santa Barbara's nightclubs on Thursday nights, packing Bill's Bus rather than taking their own cars.
The first large, street-filled Halloween in Isla Vista actually occurred in 1962. Indeed, when UCSB moved from downtown Santa Barbara to Isla Vista in 1954, students were moved from an established ambient community to an isolated place. Some have argued that the isolation accentuated and amplified risky behavior on the part of students. A festival started in the 1930s, 'The Barbary Coast,' where students dressed up and held events evocative of Gold Rush era San Francisco, became overly rowdy and was cancelled by the student government in 1959. Rowdiness in county-administered Isla Vista persisted, however, despite admonitions of UCSB administrators. At that time the County sheriffs deputies viewed enforcement of "quality of life" laws in Isla Vista as a low priority, and consigned these matters to UCSB police. A unique sharing of law enforcement responsibilities for county land between county sheriff's deputies and UCSB campus police commenced. They block off the streets at 5:00 PM on Halloween day and don't allow non-residents in.
The explosive demonstrations of the 1960s changed the tenor of Isla Vista for a while, and led to the establishment of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol, now a joint effort of County Sheriff's Deputies, the UCSB campus police, and the California Highway Patrol.
By the late 1970s, however, Isla Vista had reverted to a mostly apolitical community, with the interests of students in partying still accentuated by isolation. Halloween street parties really took root.
A variety of countermeasures to Halloween and generic partying in Isla Vista have been implemented over the years, including zero tolerance for open alcohol on the street, a strict noise ordinance, enforcement of drunk in public laws, and restrictions on open kegs at parties.
There were 5,164 households out of which 13.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 16.4% were married couples living together, 4.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 76.6% were non-families. 20.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 2.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.96 and the average family size was 3.21.
The age distribution was 8.6% under the age of 18, 73.4% from 18 to 24, 13.7% from 25 to 44, 3.1% from 45 to 64, and 1.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 21 years. Both the age distribution and median age are typical of communities dominated by college students. For every 100 females there were 100.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 99.8 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $16,151, and the median income for a family was $26,250. Males had a median income of $23,381 versus $20,281 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $7,644. 62.8% of the population and 28.6% of families were below the poverty line. 29.7% of those under the age of 18 and 3.1% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.
The high percentage of non-family residents living below the poverty line can be attributed to the fact that Isla Vista is predominantly a town populated by college students.
After the student protests and unrest of the 1970s, the Isla Vista Foot Patrol was formed. The Isla Vista Foot Patrol is a police station jointly manned by personnel from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff, UCSB Police Department, and California Highway Patrol. The IVFP was one of the first applications of community oriented policing. Officers working in Isla Vista are presented with the tough task of protecting the general public, while maintaining order in an overcrowded party scene. Most arrests consist of minor in possession, and public intoxication. Most detainees are processed in Santa Barbara County Jail.
After the IVFP's demonstration of "Fall Offensive" in 2004, many students collaborated to create a program to combat the aggressive nature of the Isla Vista Foot Patrol with something called the "Fall Defensive." In recent years the Isla Vista Foot Patrol has not received the same funding which allowed for the "Fall Offensive."