John Foran

This interview questions John Foran on the aims, objectives, and obstacles in the Eco Vista project, a project working towards transitioning Isla Vista into an ecologically homeostatic community. The interview was a group one, conducted by Alex Proksch, Natalie Chen and Bianca Costa.


Okay, why do you want to establish the Eco Vista community?

Yeah, sure. The goal of Eco Vista is rather, uh, ambitious. When we started out five years ago, we put it as turning Isla Vista into Eco Vista in this decade, the 2020s along the lines of something like an eco-village or which has no strict definition. Lately, we are aligning ourselves with what’s called Just Transition and Green New Deal work among activists in their communities. All over, just transition is another word for making the transition transformation of a community. Uh, so that it’s ecologically, uh, in line with what the climate science tells us is required, um, with respect to everything and energy transportation, um, and land use. Um, and just the just part is that this has to be based on the principles of environmental justice, which means that in the community, the, uh, we, we want to have the leadership and participation of, uh, those residents who are most affected by social injustice of all kinds, actually, whether it be economic, whether it be due to the environmental, the impact that’s happening around the world and so forth. 

So what we’re talking about is a full system. Systemic alternative is the lingo and sociology that I work with and a green new deal. Of course, uh, there are many versions of the green new deal, but it’s a, um, ambitious and progressive, uh, it’s a name for a proposed legislation at the national level to achieve some of these goals. And that of course, was performed by Alexandria, Ocasio, Cortez, and Marky and the Senate. Um, and it, you know, Bernie Sanders had a very elaborated, greener deal, uh, with numbers and, uh, like 50 pages of, you know, the details when he was running for president and all over the country, communities are trying to generate a local green new deal. So, uh, we’re involved in a project for a local green new deal that we are launching as a kind of wide consultation with the residents, all the residents we can reach in AR Vista to see what they identify as the problems for their lives, living in Arla Vista and what they would like to see instead, and what their ideas are about the future and their wellbeing. 

So, um, all of those things are part of the goal, the ambitious goal of in a reasonable least short period of time, a handful of years putting is Vista on track to become, uh, a community that is again, ecologically based, um, where everybody is, uh, receives the, has their needs met to some to degree that’s possible. Um, there’s a vision that there would be all kinds of jobs here that would be good for the environment, of course, and, uh, good for folks who are looking for jobs. So it’s some asset undertaking and it has to be done in consultation with the whole community. And EVI is a very small organization, relatively speaking with limited capacity. Um, and it has to be done through Alliance with existing community organizations of which there are many who trend in the same direction. So we are embarking on that process literally in the spring quarter. 

What do you feel is the most pressing environmental justice project for Eco Vista? 

Yeah. So hopefully these all have some bearing on environmental justice and foundations in it. Um, the most salient projects of eco Vista so far, certainly one would be the food forest in a sterile park. Um, that’s been created in the past year by a small group of very dedicated people working also with the Isla Vista recreation and park district, which has sort of jurisdiction over all the parks. Um, that’s the most visible project and it’s, it’s small. Everything we do has to sort of be within our means. Um, but the, the hope is that it becomes a model for other projects or that it’s a project that can continue to grow over time. Um, the community plan is the name for the, uh, process. That’s about to start consulting as many individuals and organizations as we can to create a document that is sort of a, a report of what the community wants and you know, what the problems are and how the community wants to solve it. 

So that’s not something visible to the eye yet, but that’s gonna be a major campaign involving a lot of people. We hope volunteers can do it. Uh, we’re using something called the house party model for that, which is simply, uh, sitting down with your neighbors in a small group or your friends as few as three or five people. And going through this conversation about, you know, what are the obstacles to living here? What are the challenges to living here? What could be done about them and doing many of those house parties will eventually generate hopefully hundreds of, uh, people’s inputs into what they’d like to see here. So that will all get put together in a report somehow, um, that will serve as the basis for, you know, some kind of visionary, holistic, transformational, um, a number of projects that will come out of that. 

So we’re kind of on one year to do that process. And then if it succeeds after that, a whole number of actual projects on the ground will come out of that depending on what people want and what they can do. So I would say the food forest, uh, is a modest, but real step toward, uh, dealing with some of the, um, food, um, in the direction of food sovereignty in food self-sufficiency. Um, and the community plan is a sort of comprehensive bottom-up, uh, process to, to have a, a detailed vision of how to bring about this big transformation. Um, those are two very important projects that are going on. The third is, uh, we just recently opened a community. Well, we haven’t even launched it to the public yet, a community center, um, a physical space, uh, on par road that we hope to open to the public in April as a, uh, community center, a place for organizations to host events, a place for, um, evenings, uh, of culture, whether it’s open mics or music or any other number of things that people will bring to it.

Um, and a physical place where people can sit and be with each other during the day, hopefully over a coffee. It’s actually in the space of the former coffee collaborative, which was a, a well-loved institution in IBM, uh, the whole community and followed by campus point, which operated there as a cafe for two years or a year before the pandemic shut everything down in that space. That’s been emptied, uh, for a while. So we’re jumping in and trying to use that as a space, again, to do outreach to the community, to, uh, be of service to the community, um, and to build a kind of denser network of people who are basically aligned with these values. I would say those are the three big projects. I can also name the E Vista club. That’s a, uh, launch to be happening. Hasn’t happened yet, but there’s planning for, uh, the club to be an organized student group on campus, which will kind of involve students in a, um, in a way where there might be resources and they can organize their events through that. 

And as you know, Natalie, uh, the Zen is a publication. Um, I guess our website is a kind of major project too, because on the website, you can find information about all, most of these projects, you can find issues of the Zen called the radical C at the end about roots. Um, and we even have a so-called E eco vistas climate justice press, which publishes free books, including fiction analysis of, uh, the problems that we face and some possible solutions and poetry, and even a children’s, those can be found on our website in that space. So I’d say that’s like five things maybe. 

How do you think about grass-root environmental, uh, organizations will impact the public perceptions and participation on environmental justice? 

So how do, um, environmental justice and social justice organizations, how might they make an impact? How are they making an impact? Uh, yeah. How do they reach out within the community to raise awareness? Um, well, by doing some of these things, that’s how E ego Vista is thinking about it. And there are many we’ve discovered and what most people know if they scratch the surfaces. There’s a, a rich network of community organizations, including, you know, official governmental elected bodies, like this community service district and the rec park district, including, uh, organizations that serve young people, um, Ivy youth project, the St. George project, um, uh, know bombs, which is trying to offer free meals, uh, nutritious meals to the community on a regular basis. Um, that list goes on and on. So all of these organizations sort of are throwing their best ideas around all of this. 

Um, there’s like no one model or a way to do it. Uh, and I think it has to be a network, a coalition of forces to, to do it all. Um, so that part’s important and yeah. How do you raise awareness if that was the question you have to work at it, um, and we’re doing it along with other organizations. The best we can. The idea though, is that this will grow, become more visible and more vibrant and more attractive to people to participate in all of this. And, um, we’ll get to the point where big changes can be affected. Somehow. I don’t have a roadmap, nobody has a roadmap for that. Nobody’s in control of that process. And that’s why it’s interesting, cuz we’re gonna learn from each other by doing things together. 

In your opinion, what is something you feel we would need to pay extra attention to and something that might slip to the rug if we didn’t know, and how to incorporate those into our social enterprise.

Course. Um, the food issue is probably, you know, right up there as the leading issue in a community like is Vista the, the sort of obvious number one is the housing crisis. Um, and that affects food security too, because if you’re spending all your money to have a place, you have less money for everything else and food is the next priority. And maybe it’s the first priority. In fact, some people can’t afford housing because they have to devote limited resources just to food. So there’s obviously a problem and you probably know that there have been studies of food insecurity across the UC and shocking number of UC undergraduates. Um, we don’t have, uh, food security. Um, you should look for those. So you got the problem for sure. And hopefully you’re talking, you have a very specific idea, a new kind of social, socially responsible startup to address, to offer free food. 

That’s awesome. That’s like what could do better and to have that in the community and to have that at scale, um, the people that are doing that with a different model is food, not bombs first and foremost. Um, and they have the perhaps, I mean, it sounds to me like you’re gonna need a tremendous amount of capital, uh, to do anything, to make this work, not to do anything. So that’s the first obstacle I foresee for you. And that’s a common obstacle, all groups trying to do good work in a community. Um, these wonderful ideas are there, but realizing them is a challenge that is beyond the obvious means that we start with, so you have to do some fundraising, you have to find the, you know, sort of chicken and egg, um, the project, if you set it up, will the funding you need to do what you want to do in is Vista. 

So you’re gonna need partners, maybe existing, you know, social entrepreneurs, um, to pitch this too. And so one way to make it work for you is to go into the community, the broader community of Santa Barbara, which Ivy is part of and, um, take a look at organizations that Hey, you could be interested in the idea. And then beyond that, you know, look for, uh, foundations and sources of funding, where you could propose this to. So you might have the workings of a kind of, um, funding, uh, proposal. And we have some experience in that world, not a lot of success, but we’re kind of ourselves at the point where we are trying to raise funds for, to pay organizers really, rather than all this voluntary work that people have put in their heart and soul into. Um, and also a model where, uh, people who became active in Eco Vista, the vast majority from have been young people who will graduate either from city college or, uh, UCSB and move on is for people that, you know, get the, the bug to stay in the unity and try to realize this, any of these projects for them to have an opportunity to afford to do that. 

That’s where we get into how interconnected everything is. A circular economy is the idea that, um, somehow we can generate, create work with others to start up, um, enterprises for organizers and activists to do the good work and get the compensation they would need to live in the community and other chicken in problem. So, um, and then the other, uh, obvious solution is to just grow the food yourself, which is a great solution. Uh, you have to take that to a lot of scale. There’s, you know, there’s always been a vision that in Isla Vista, there could be more gardens, public gardens, private gardens, um, free gardens, and UCSB is involved in doing some of that work. So the greenhouse garden project is kind of asked, uh, little farm of small plots, uh, beyond the stadium. Um, that too, I would, uh, say, look in at UCSB the resources were around food and student, um, internship paid internships because in the office of sustainability, there are some great people like Katie Maynard, um, who work specifically to find funded internships and who is, uh, direct, involved the number of those projects to do with food. 

So hopefully, you know, about Katie, if not, I can introduce you, um, and Mo Lovegreen, who is sort of on the, uh, facility side of making Eco Vistas, more carbon-neutral around sustainability in this traditional sense. Um, so what it is is you have to map, or you could map this mosaic of, of partners and resources. And in that way, you don’t have to do this on your own with no resources cuz you can’t. So the step you’re taking is the first big step, which is to come up, as you say, with an idea that works and then, um, and making that idea a reality in all these other ways, by collaborating, by sharing what you have to share, um, by learning the lay of the land, literally. Um, so yeah, there’s a tremendous interest among students and in eco Vista as well to, to actually grow food, to have gardens, um, and we need creative ideas so that there are more gardens and more opportunities to do that.

Um, and like everything else, the, the beauty of it is not only the outcome of having food, but it’s all the skills that people acquire along the way and all the relationships that are built because those ultimately become the basis for scaling things, um, doing the same in other communities, if you leave on the Vista and graduate and so forth. And E ECOS has kind of looked at it that way, you know, the availability of students who are passionate about this, we are lucky to have, um, but they are passing through in two years, three years. And what you have to do is turn that into a plus, you know, and by doing things that teach skills and inspire people, and there’s a learning process that everybody will take with them and fan out all over. That’s taking things to scale as well. And that’s, we need to do these, not just things, not just in our Vista of, but everywhere. And so the good news is that there are networks on so many of these issues all across, at any level, the county, uh, the central coast, California, nationally, globally, um, to engage with and learn from and do things together with. So I don’t know if that’s, that’s sort of a loose kind of strategic vision, that’s all over the place. So a few tips learned by trial and much error so far on this journey. 

 I also was wondering, um, you know, this has been in the process for five years, have you guys gotten funding? And right now, what requires funding and what can be achieved without money currently?

Exactly. So for four of those five years, we wrote no grant proposals other than getting small amounts of money, uh, from office undergraduate research to do projects, which were all called EVI. Um, but there was no other funding available. And so it was very DIY, very volunteer centered, you know, put in what you’re able to, nobody could be required to do things that would jeopardize, you know, their time or their success in school or, you know, so we just kind of loosely made things up as we went. And that’s the website you see is largely the result of those three, four years of work. There’s one document called the holy catalog under the climate justice press, which brings together a lot of writing that was done in that early period, um, of all kinds. And I would recommend that as a kind of something we did with no budget. 

Um, and it’s only in the past year, literally since the beginning, January of 2021, that we decided to make a concerted effort to understand how to raise funds, to identify the foundations, to apply to and to do that. And so last year we made a number of applications to fund the community plan, um, to get that off the ground and to pay a small number of people for part-time work on that, to launch it, not having had success so far. Um, we’re launching it anyway. Um, but we continue to look for funds because the principle is as articulated. If the ideal is when you’re able to support yourself doing this good work. Um, so we’re taking baby steps in that direction. I would say if you add up all the grant proposals we did last year for that, you know, I am speaking together about many, many, uh, opportunities. 

If we had got them, we’d have well over a hundred thousand dollars, which could, you know, keep a lot of people working on this until it ended in the report we’re trying to do. And, um, in the process, you know, we made relationships with foundations. We learned, I don’t know, we learned about what a grant proposal has to look like. We got feedback from, uh, certain of the organizations that liked what we did, but didn’t think we were able to do it, um, or didn’t have the resources or the plan wasn’t really there. So that’s all helped us both on doing that, that the community plan, which will begin as beginning literally now, and, um, making better fundraising proposals until eventually we have success. And that’s the hope. Um, so it’s a shoestring operation, um, that has survived because of people’s passion and what they’re gonna do on a volunteer basis. 

And, uh, we know that to make it solid and self-generating, and regenerative is an important word, um, in this work that many organizations draw on, um, we have to find a funding model. So the collab is a bet that we can do things in that activity that raise enough money to pay the rent for it, to pay the people working there and to create a beautiful space, uh, to benefit the community. And it is by no means certain that that’s going to become possible after a certain initial effort. In this crucial we’re in, we’ve done three, two months and we hope to launch next month and then we’ll see how that goes. I don’t know if that’s much of an answer. I can’t even remember the question.

I’m curious about your personal views about what the central obstacles are to achieving this transition in regards to both culture and material structures that exist in Isla Vista in regards to say, UCSB  and the state. And generally, I mean, there’s so much infighting on the left, what might be called identity politics. And you touched on funding and like the struggles that, um, have come from that aspect, but how do you see that relating to the cultural dynamics at play in Isla Vista?

Sure. Okay. It’s a huge question, you know, pointing to the issues involved in thinking about it. Um, first off there is, there’s no answer. We don’t know what’s going to happen during this process. And the crises that we face are on an existential level that are making life worse by the day for more and more people. And that is intertwined, of course, right? The climate crisis is kind of the timeline that we have to make things happen by. And we have to do this in, in an economic circumstance that just generates inequality. We have to do it in the existing parameters of racism and patriarchy in the society. And these are global problems. Um, we have to do it in conditions of a pandemic. Um, we have to do it in, uh, what I call cultures of violence, which permeate communities and families, but really go all the way to the geopolitical level as we’ve seen. 

Um, so it seems what I’ve learned from 10 years and, you know, as a participant, uh, and observer of the global climate justice network of movements, we call it the global kind justice movement, but it’s not a movement. It’s a network of any movements, um, is that you have to build, you have to build a dense, you know, community dense, meaning more people participating, uh, more people collaborating and the, uh, trade-off is, you know, people…tend to be committed to their way of doing things. So you have to find people that are open to that collaboration across all kinds of, of differences, of strategy, of issue, of, um, you know, purpose. Um, and that’s true right down to the local level. So it’s important to the way I’ve always thought about E ECOS is that it is open to every community member potentially asking for a future that has aligned with what we call our values and our mission statement. 

Um, and it’s an open invitation. Uh, these things don’t grow by themselves, especially if you’re starting small. Um, you both understand the necessity for working with others and the value of that. Um, even if you lack the capacity to do everything that you would like to do, I don’t think we have a strategic plan that puts all that together. We are sort of by experience, trying to figure out ways to do that. And the trend, I think for E eco Vista is that it is grown in different ways. It’s not just in numbers or visible projects, but it has deep, we have deepened our understanding of, of this work. And yet we’re still very much at the beginning of it or the, you know, trying to get to the middle. And I think some of the things I’ve been talking about are the ways to do that. 

The, um, working with other organizations and working within the community for the community, um, that’s the model I see. Um, and there you deal with all kinds of inequalities, all kinds of, you know, adversaries, actually the, the landlords U C S B itself, the county, um, and then the systems. So, uh, there’s no guarantee, there’s no guarantee in, in terms of confronting the climate crisis, you just have to, uh, wake up to it, uh, examine yourself and what you think you can do. And in the process learn by doing, and working with others. It’s very general, but that’s a kind of, that’s kind of the, uh, the frame I take, you know, to activism. And I think there’s a spiritual dimension to it too. I think you have to be kind of, you don’t have to be, but it helps if, you know, things align if the way you do things aligns with, you know, your deepest, most positive understanding of, uh, some, some weighty, uh, matters also with no answers. 

Like, you know, how do we relate to nature as part of nature, that’s screwing with nature. Uh, how do we get out of that? Um, what are the ways to, to think about doing that? Because we’ve dug a hole so deep that, um, we better find some ways to do things better than we’ve done in the past. Who is that? We, I mean, I, I think starting locally is, is good because you actually have to work with other people to see what can be done and you see, you know, how that works and doesn’t work, but also networking with others and realizing that nobody’s alone in this, no community is alone. Um, that there’s plenty of like-minded communities doing amazing things. There’s, as we say, a blurry versus systemic alternatives already in motion, there’s a dense network of social justice organizations and climate justice movements doing this work. 

Um, so maybe, you know, maybe the pandemic and the technology that’s allowing us to meet over zoom. I really doubt it because we’ve scheduled a meeting on campus with however many we started with, um, to do this. I don’t have time to do that myself. So we’re doing it in my office hours. Uh, and we’re lucky no one has come so up to Sophia. Who’s coming back in a minute. So obviously Alex this is a conversation we can continue to have happy to do that and happy to, you know, make the connections, any of you want to other, uh, people working in eco Vista, uh, or who are more directly working on the food question than I am. Um, and working with others and so forth and so on. 

I really appreciate it, this was all effectively a conversation starter which has provided a lot of content that is a guiding force of some kind for moving forward beyond just academic projects. So, thanks. 

Yeah. Nobody can, you know, be content with work anymore if it’s not out in the world in a non-academic setting.

By: Alex Proksch

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