April 2, 2024
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Forging a new Isla Vista: While politicians talk, area developer builds a teen center


The new permanent home of the YMCA’s youth programs in Isla Vista, the St. George Youth Center, will open later this spring. (Nik Blaskovich / Business Times photo)

The new permanent home of the YMCA’s youth programs in Isla Vista, the St. George Youth Center, will open later this spring. (Nik Blaskovich / Business Times photo)


As Santa Barbara County continues to brush aside issues facing the unincorporated area of Isla Vista, leaving UC Santa Barbara to direct development, services for the families living in the student-dominated community have fallen by the wayside.

For years the IV Teen Center, the only common space for IV’s youth, has been housed in a beat-up modular unit run by Santa Barbara’s Youth and Family Services YMCA, which didn’t even have enough funding to repair the classroom’s leaky roof. That space has been replaced by the St. George Youth Center, a permanent home donated by Ed St. George, owner of property management firm St. George & Associates.

The new 3,200-square-foot center, set to open later this spring, will serve more than 150 kids from sixth to 12th grade.

St. George became acquainted with the Teen Center while building the Campus 880 student-housing complex across the street on Camino del Sur.

He had previously volunteered to repair the building’s roof and a rotting handicap access ramp, and when the donation of a new modular classroom from the university fell through, St. George delivered a better proposal.

“He had seen a lot of the kids coming in and out of the Teen Center, liked what he saw, and said, ‘You know what? I’ll just build you a building,’ ” Channel Islands YMCA Executive Director Lynn Karlson said.

The center opened in 1999 and came under the wing of Youth and Family Services at the Channel Islands YMCA in 2001. Despite its dilapidated facilities, the center has been able to reach a large number of teens, “so we’re excited about what this could mean,” Karlson said. “Isla Vista unfortunately has gotten quite a bit of bad press, and the truth is there’s a lot of great stuff going on there too.”

St. George enlisted ON Design, the Santa Barbara team behind his apartments across the street, to develop the project in a similar style.

“As a builder and developer, I cut my teeth in Isla Vista, so it’s natural to want to give back to the community that’s been so good to me,” St. George said in a press statement. “I have supported the Teen Center for years, and when we began construction on our new 56-unit project across the street, I was able to see with my own eyes how many kids attend the Teen Center on a daily basis — it really touched my heart.”

Karlson said the hope is that the new building’s more inviting atmosphere will give the organization a greater presence while expanding on development trends in Isla Vista.

“Ed’s new building really does say, ‘Come in, welcome, this is a place to be,’ ” Karlson said. “He was hoping to provide a gift for the children and families, but also a bit of a facelift for Isla Vista. There’s been a lot going on downtown in the loop of Isla Vista, and Ed really wants to continue that process of giving Isla Vista a different face to the community.”

Construction is wrapping up at the Teen Center’s new building, which replaces a dilapidated modular classroom. (Nik Blaskovich / Business Times photo)

Construction is wrapping up at the Teen Center’s new building, which replaces a dilapidated modular classroom. (Nik Blaskovich / Business Times photo)

The darker sides of the idyllic beachside town were lain bare amid a swarm of bad press that grabbed national headlines last spring — first surrounding the outbreak of riots during a street party, and then the aftermath of a mass murder that left seven community members dead.

Though it has no commitment to provide public safety services for the community that borders its campus, the cash-strapped university had taken the best steps it could to mitigate the events. In the days leading up to Deltopia, the annual street party that last year culminated in a riot, UCSB paid $8,000 for video surveillance towers installed on county property and monitored by county law enforcement.

Despite this new technology and the reinforced ranks the county supplied for law enforcement during the event, the crew was unprepared to properly contain the situation on the ground, and chaos ensued.

Notably, 91 percent of the 412 arrests and citations given out during Deltopia did not involve a member of the UCSB community. And late last month, the university announced it will give the county $70,000 to kickstart the construction of a fence along the dangerous areas of the coastal bluffs that have seen numerous deaths resulting from cliff falls.

The school’s announcement belies the frustrating relationship it has had with county governance and opens by stating the need to “ensure the timely completion of an important community safety project.” The fence will be built on land owned by the county and the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District.

These are the latest in a long line of community investments from UCSB, which also recently donated $220,000 for street lighting and sidewalk improvements.

But despite the scandals and fumbling attempts to tame the student culture, “the truth is there’s a lot of great stuff going on there too,” Karlson said.

In fact, last year’s events fostered a renewed community identity and spurred a self-governance movement to address basic needs of the politically isolated area. Since last spring Assemblymember Das Williams, who represents District 37 and is an Isla Vista native, has held 27 town hall meetings to discuss AB 3, a bill that would pave the way for stabilization in IV by establishing a community service district.

However, that effort will likely be tied up for quite some time while it’s reviewed by Santa Barbara County’s Local Agency Formation Commission, where earlier Isla Vista measures have gone to die.

While the community abounds with gathering places for college students, the Teen Center is the only space youth can call their own, Karlson said. In the interim, the YMCA has been meeting with teens in Estero Park, next to the center’s site, or a space provided by the Methodist Church across the street.

In addition to structural upgrades, the new space will give the YMCA a more productive space for programs. Whereas before the center focused on after-school academics, it will now be able to incorporate the YMCA’s healthy living aspect with a workout area that will host family programs such as Zumba and cooking classes. Instructional space will be expanded as well, with a new computer lab and expanded classroom space.

Karlson said the center also helps bridge the gap between the transient college community and permanent residents.

“There’s no place better to live if you’re a student, but for the families that live there, it can be a challenge for the same reasons that make it so wonderful,” Karlson said. “The Teen Center is a place where children also get to see the best and brightest of UCSB, because we have these terrific student staff members who come in and expose them to the best of what the community offers. They may see some of the downside, some of the excesses and bad behaviors next door at home, but they come here and they get to meet the students one on one, and these are students who care about community and care about their neighbors.”

In fact, students have also covered some of the project’s other costs, such as permitting and furnishings, via a $30,000 contribution from the Associated Students’ IV Tenant Union, and some of the center’s staff is funded by student fees through the campus A.S.

Karlson said the center’s association with the university has helped it achieve graduation rates higher than the organization’s average and makes students more likely to get involved in extracurricular activities.

“Sometimes the really sad thing is that we don’t see kids anymore because they’re so much more likely to get involved at their high schools,” Karlson said. “Which is  what you want — for their world to unfold, and not just to be that square mile that is Isla Vista.”