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:

  1. 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. 
  2. Serve as a political vehicle to fight for and ensure tenant rights. 
  3. 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]

Santa Barbara once had a tenant’s union that came close to establishing rent control [56%-44%], but eventually settled for rent control in mobile home lots in August of 1984.  
In the summer of 1998, 33 families were evicted from their apartment complexes: Colonial, Balboa, and Cortez. This event has become common in Isla Vista to make room for students who can pay higher rent. During that summer of 1998, 18 families united with their children and students of the uniersity to march in protest of the abuses experenced by the families in Isla Vista. From this protest a coalition formed by Latin families and univerisity students (Familes and Students United). After some time the coalition converted into the Isla Vista Tenants Union. The member of the Isla Vista Tenants Union are residents of the Isla Vista community that are interested in protecting and advancing the rights of tenants of Isla Vista. The Union mission is to serve as a resource to all who live in Isla Vista. “We want all tenants to know their rights so that landlords don’t have the advantage. We believe that everyone has the right to live without discriination, retaliation and the fear of eviction. We rcognize the diversity of our community and we hope that we can accomdate the necessities of the majority of the people.” Harley Augustino.
March 1999, IVTU’s first Renter’s Rights Fair.  The event kicked off with Aztec dancing and the day was full of educational and fun activities for the entire Isla Vista community.  This consisted of live music, food, workshops, and special guest speakers Yonnie Harris, UCSB Dean of Students, and Gail Marshall, 3rd District Supervisor as well as UCSB student organizers Harley Augustino and Rebecca Prather.   Workshops included the Housing Mediation Task Force and the Isla Vista Food Co-op.  All speeches and workshops were translated in to both English and Spanish in order to reach more of the Isla Vista community.
In February 2002 there was a tenants’ outreach drive to distribute 4,000 renters’ rights booklets and launch the landlord evaluation program developed by IVTU, AS  Legal Services, IV Community Relations and other housing experts.
  • 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.

In August of 2006 in Isla Vista, 55 residents at Cedarwood Apartments received a thirty day eviction notice in what was one of the largest mass eviction in the area. Cedarwood Apartments was home to more than fifty families who were mostly low-income and Latino. Some suspect that the August eviction was due to the ever increasing enrollment of students at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the pressure they put on the housing market. Furthermore, the Cedarwood evictions came at a time of increasing gentrification in Santa Barbara. In July of 2006, the Santa Barbara City Council denied an appeal against the proposed condominium conversions of affordable rental units. In Santa Maria, plans were in place to demolish a mobile home park in favor of a golf course. With the help of the Santa Barbara Legal Foundation and the Isla Vista Tenets Union Cedarwood families  legally challenged their eviction.  Click here to watch “United We Stand”  a video about the IV community response to the Cedarwood Apartment evictions.

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.