Isla Vista Tenants Union & The Fight For Tenant’s Rights. This section looks at the history of tenant and landlord relations in Isla Vista and Santa Barbara County. It also looks at the history of the 1960’s housing boom in Isla Vista, UCSB’s role in Isla Vista’s rapid development, and the communities response. For more information on current organizing around tenants rights in Isla Vista click here.
Isla Vista renters and landlords have never been on amiable terms. Isla Vista tenants, whom make up 97% of the Isla Vista population, have been working together to demand respect and fair treatment from landlords, the County, and the University as far back as the early 1970s. The combination of extreme overcrowding in the Isla Vista housing market and limited tenant protection laws in Santa Barbara County has made Isla Vista, and in large part Santa Barbara, an easy place for landlords to exploit tenants. Santa Barbara County has a population of about 420,000; 44% of whom are renters.
The history of how Isla Vista became the most densely populated community West of the Mississippi starts in 1953 when the UC Santa Barbara campus moved from its Riviera campus [current site of the Brooks Institute] to what is now UCSB. When the projected enrollment at UCSB was set at 25,000 students, the landowners of much of Isla Vista and Goleta were Signal Oil and UC Board of Regents members. With the exception of some land sold to the University of California by Thomas Storke, the majority of Isla Vista was available for private development.
To meet the monetary needs of the lucrative development of Isla Vista and Goleta the Goleta Valley Savings and Loan was formed in 1962, board members included Samuel Mosher [Signal Oil President and UC Regent], Daniel Frost [Signal Oil], John Harlan [Signal Oil], Thomas Storke [UC Regent], Bert Lare [Thomas Storke’s General Manager], and Vernon Cheadle [UCSB Chancellor]. In 1962, these property owners along with UCSB Administration were working together to create the modern. To fully capitalize on the profit potential of Isla Vista, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in collaboration with Isla Vista property owners came up with customized zoning plan called SR-2 and SR-3 [Student-Residential]. Once approved this new zoning category allowed land developers not have meet minimum requirements for sidewalks, bluffs, parking spaces, etc. During this period their was massive population growth in Goleta Valley, growing from 19,000 in 1960 to 69,000 in 1970.
While the level of tenant organizing has fluctuated in the past, the current Isla Vista Tenants Union was built by a surge of action after 36 Latino families were evicted from the Colonial, Balboa, and Cortez apartment buildings in the summer of 1998. A coalition of students and 18 evicted families formed Families and Students United. After some time this coalition recognized the need to educate and empower tenants, and a year later formed the Isla Vista Tenants Union under UCSB Associated Students.
The Isla Vista Tenants Union serves three purposes:
- A way to get information out to tenants and make tenants aware of their rights because many landlords try to take advantage of peoples ignorance about housing rights. Isla Vista residents should know when landlords are breaking the law.
- Serve as a political vehicle to fight for and ensure tenant rights.
- Build community and leaders among Isla Vista residence.
Prior to the creation of the Isla Vista Tenants Union community members dealing with unresponsive landlords had to options for recourse, contacting Steve Farley Housing Inspector and Associated Students Legal Services.
In 1971, Isla Vista Tenant’s Union members picketed the Income Property Management office and urged Isla Vistans to boycott landlords, but fell short of their goals. Renter-landlord friction reached a new high in the Spring of 1971 as several Isla Vista property owners, including Ventura Realty’s Jack Schwartz and Rentals, Etc.’s Mabel Shults, actively fought Isla Vista’s drive to set up it own Park District–which would have had power to tax owners. The Park District was voted on by Isla Vista residents in the Fall of 1972. [Welcome to UCSB 1972 page 30]
- La Pachanga de Inquilionos-Tenants Jam, a night of celebration and inspiration for IV tenants. The event included food, live music, IVTU information and various speakers.
- The El Encanto Project, an organized effort to support the building of an 18-unit affordable housing development in Goleta. Twenty IVTU members attended a Board of Supervisors meeting to endorse and advocate for the project.
- The IVTU took an increasingly active role in the Goleta cityhood hearings.
- Goleta Now! proposal excluded Isla Vista from the proposed city, and IVTU researched a variety of governance possibilities for Isla Vista and remained an active participant in the discussions.
- IVTU sponsored ongoing education and leadership development opportunities for members and reached out to the community with information about renters’ rights.
- The Associated Students’ legal council made a presentation on tenant-landlord law, from eviction process to security deposit issues
2001 March for Economic Justice: 800 people from around Santa Barbara County flooded State Street on Saturday for the First Annual People’s March for Economic Justice. The event is organized by the UCSB Campus Labor Action Coalition (CLAC), with the help of various other groups, including the Isla Vista and Carpinteria Tenant’s Unions and the Coalition for a Living Wage. organized in response to economic issues within Santa Barbara, including the proposed living wage ordinance, which seeks to raise the minimum wage for city employees to $11 per hour with health benefits or $12.25 an hour without health.
On July 7th 2009, the Rental Housing Roundtable, a coalition of Santa Barbara County tenant rights supporters, rallied outside the County Administration Building to demand that supervisors expand the law governing how much relocation assistance landlords have to provide to displaced tenants. The county’s eight-year-old ordinance requires that landlords provide relocation assistance only when tenants are forced out because their homes have been deemed uninhabitable. The Rental Housing Roundtable argues that the law should be expanded to include renters forced to seek new accommodations because of condo conversion, demolition, renovations, and rezoning.
Organizers with the Roundtable say four mass evictions since 2002 have displaced at least 300 families. In these instances, the tenants were evicted to allow for renovations and improvements that enabled the landlords to charge substantially higher rents. Almost always the affected households are low-income, Latino, and families with children. Belen Seara, executive director of PUEBLO and spokesperson for the group, said landlords should give relocation payments sufficient to cover first month’s rent and security deposit.