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`Party' is the password at student enclave

October 15, 2006|Talya Meyers | Special to The Times

Isla Vista, an area adjoining the UC Santa Barbara campus, is a haven for college students and a few lucky families. Slightly seedy and a little bit downtrodden, it nonetheless represents what's best about youth: informality, cheerfulness and energy. A lot of energy.


The UC Santa Barbara campus moved from a very small location to the site of a former Marine base in 1953, and although it built on most of the land, it left what is now Isla Vista undeveloped. As the student population increased, this half-mile square of land, which adjoins the campus directly to the north-northwest, was used for student housing.

From the very beginning, the apartments and amenities that cropped up were designed for student consumption -- think somewhat less than luxurious. In fact, think cheap. Well, cheap for Santa Barbara County.

And you know you are in student territory. In 1970, antiwar sentiment led to residents burning the local symbol of unbridled capitalism -- the Bank of America. The incident lives on in Isla Vista, and whether it's a source of pride or shame depends entirely on whom you're talking to.

In 2001, the generally good-humored community was shaken when a UCSB student, who was later found legally insane by a Santa Barbara County jury, struck five people with his car on a busy Isla Vista street, killing four of them.

Insider's view

There's no mistaking the student housing -- big, square buildings with a motel-ish vibe in varying states of repair. But the most telling sign of undergraduate residents therein are the ubiquitous cruiser bikes -- large, bright contraptions with upright handlebars and wide seats -- piled on racks in frontyards.

Isla Vista's reputation as a party scene has become part of the cultural wallpaper; it's just accepted. The 6500 and 6600 blocks of Del Playa Drive, the street that runs along the coast, are, according to UCSB graduate Colin Ebert, "the heart of weekend partying." Houses are bright with murals, and beach-facing balconies look as if they've seen many a Friday-night bash. Couches decorate lawns, and in front of one building, a giant plant is adorned with an empty beer carton on each of its leaves.

But the farther you head from campus, the more the student housing thins and the more Isla Vista just seems like an artsy, relatively prosperous residential community. After all, only 60% of residents are students, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Isla Vista Foot Patrol website, and these cottages with their trellises of morning glories are well worth graduating to.

Good news, bad news

For students, Isla Vista is a step toward independence over dorm life but isn't as grown-up (or as expensive) as a move to downtown Santa Barbara. The restaurants and stores appeal to students' tastes and budgets.

Its political past has spilled into the present. At the local co-op, a UCSB student is recruiting volunteers for a rally to protest the eviction of low-income families from a nearby apartment building.

Isla Vista Foot Patrol -- the result of cooperation between county and campus -- is a constant presence, handing out BUIs (that's bicycling under the influence) and tickets to minors in possession of alcohol, especially during the neighborhood's famous Halloween weekend.

The university offers student-friendly activities -- concerts, dances, improv shows -- on Friday and Saturday nights in the neighborhood, to give residents safer pastimes "without taking all the fun out of college," said Yonie Harris, dean of students.

Housing stock

Isla Vista is primarily a renters' community. There are about 100 single-family homes and, explains Prudential California Realtor Yasmin Vatter, many of these were bought in the '60s and '70s by people who "loved the idea of a small beachfront community and continue to live there." Only a few homes go on the market each year.

One studio in a complex with on-site laundry and parking is being offered at $1,200 per month on a one-year lease.

A tri-level, three-bedroom, four-bathroom house with 3,100 square feet is listed at $1,850,000. It's on Del Playa Drive and has unobstructed beachfront views and a sunken terrace.

Report card

Isla Vista elementary students attend Isla Vista School, which scored 782 out of 1,000 on the 2006 Academic Performance Index Growth Report. Goleta Valley Junior High School scored 790; Dos Pueblos High School, 784.


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