County Steps Up Safety for Student Housing Along Isla Vista Bluffs

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office joined local officials and other public agencies for a press conference on the safety of Isla Vista Bluffs on Thursday afternoon (courtesy)
Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office joined local officials and other public agencies for a press conference on the safety of Isla Vista Bluffs on September 28, 2023. (courtesy)

Requiring property owners with structures along the bluff edge to obtain and submit measurements twice per year

In response to the tragedies and coastal erosion in Isla Vista, the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department has unveiled a proposed amendment to the Isla Vista Bluff Policy.

The proposed change in policy will require property owners that have structures within 20 feet of the bluff edge to obtain and submit measurements twice per year from the foundation of buildings or structures to the actual bluff edge. Measurements must be completed by a California-licensed surveyor or civil engineer and be submitted to the County’s Building Official. This will provide another tool for the County’s monitoring of bluff erosion, by enhanced tracking of the distance of structures to the bluff edge and helping determine when a structure must be cut back or even vacated.

The department partnered with the Office of Supervisor Capps to revise the bluff policy after receiving valuable input from community members who participated in a bluff safety town hall held by the Isla Vista Community Services District earlier this year.

“My job is to listen carefully and rapidly respond to the ever-changing needs of the community. The bluffs are eroding at an accelerated pace, making the balconies of these properties more dangerous than ever before for the students who live and gather there in overcrowded spaces,” said Supervisor Capps, who represents all of Isla Vista. “Measuring the extent of the erosion every six months is key for taking common sense precautions to prevent future tragedies. We all want to make Isla Vista safer.”

“Some properties along the Isla Vista bluffs have experienced significant coastal erosion, catalyzed by climate change and more frequent significant weather events,” added Capps.

The County’s Planning and Development Department released its initial Isla Vista Bluff Policy in 2004, as part of its Bluff Monitoring Program and updated it in 2020 to increase the single event failure threshold from 5 feet to 10 feet based on a single failure in 2017 that exceeded the original 5-foot threshold. This amendment will aid the Department in tracking coastal erosion and ensuring property owners are keeping their properties as safe and secure as possible for tenants.

“The proposed policy change will give the Department an important tool that allows staff to more precisely monitor the erosion of the bluff and determine when additional action by the property owner is required including the preparation of geotechnical reports, relocation of fencing, and eventually the relocation or cutback of structures,” says Lisa Plowman, Director of Planning & Development.

The proposed amendments to the Isla Vista Bluff Policy can be found here. Questions or comments on the policy can be submitted to Santa Barbara County Building Official, Craig Johnson (johnsonc@countyofsb.org). Please submit comments by June 25, 2024.

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  1. This doesn’t solve the problem of people climbing over fences. But, having toured the area and seen the dire situation of the crumbling cliffs, the County had to do something like this. If they don’t address the situation, and a patio or section of building tumbles down when the cliff fails, they’d be blamed for ignoring an obvious hazard.

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