Landlord Verbally Assaults Isla Vista Official on State Street
By Lauren Bray, edhat staff
[Update 11/14/17: Santa Barbara County District Attorney has charged Gelb with disturbing the peace. Read more here.]
[Editor's Note: Warning the below article and video contain graphic and hateful language. An updated response from James Gelb has been added below]
Isla Vista landlord James Gelb verbally assaulted Isla Vista Community Service Director Board President Ethan Bertrand with homophobic hate speech on State Street this past Tuesday.
Bertrand, 21, is openly gay and serves as the unofficial mayor of Isla Vista in the newly formed IVCSD, a special district that represents the Isla Vista community. Gelb is an established landlord in Isla Vista who recently put 37 of his apartment complex properties on the market for an estimated $79 million.
Around 8:00 p.m., a conversation was captured on video between the two. Bertrand was apparently walking from one work meeting to another when he came across Gelb on the street. Bertrand stated, "I think it's a really good idea you are selling your I.V. properties."
Recorded on the video, Gelb asked why he said that, then Bertrand can be heard calmly saying, "well you've treated your tenants very poorly." Gelb responded by screaming "Fuck You!" and a slew of other obscenities at Bertrand while following him down the 500 block of State Street. Gelb quickly became irate and asked, "what's your net worth you little fucker?"
Bertrand continued to stay calm and said, "have a good night" while trying to distance himself from Gelb, who persisted. As Bertrand walked away you could hear Gelb yell, "Go fuck yourself... you walk like a fucking fag.. you're a fucking fag." Bertrand then stopped and turned towards Gelb, calmly stating, "hey, I'm very proud to be gay." Gelb continued to shout homophobic slurs and obscenities towards Bertrand, asking if he'd like to "butt fuck" someone.
Only at this point, you could hear other people on the street intervening by telling Gelb to knock it off. He then stopped in front of the Scientology building to ask what they thought of "fags fucking each other." The video then stops with Bertrand continuing to walk away.
Within the 1:35 minute video, Gelb used homophobic hate speech more than 14 times.
In a written press release Bertrand said, "Mr. Gelb’s actions caused me to fear for my personal safety, leaving me traumatized for the rest of the evening. His disgusting behavior shows that in 2017, LGBTQ people in our community can still face harassment, discrimination, and the threat of violence. I hope that Mr. Gelb can heal from the trauma that has caused him to treat people this way, but I also demand that he be held accountable for this unconscionable attack on the LGBTQ community.”
Gelb responded to edhat with a written response* regarding the altercation that took place. Gelb stated he was provoked due to Bertrand calling him a "pedophile" and a "felon" which he says caused him to lose his cool and say things he regrets. He continued to claim his brother died of AIDS and he's supported many LGBT causes and will continue to do so. Bertrand has denied calling Gelb a pedophile.
In the remainder of Gelb's response, he expresses being bullied by his tenants which have caused him "emotional distress and fuels students (tenants and non-tenants) to get footage" of his reactions. Gelb maintains that he was baited and trapped.
"I regret taking the bait. I have not slept and have been sick all week. I have never revealed this publicly but am now forced to do so. As a young boy I was clinically diagnosed with a disability, Asperger's Syndrome. This means that I sometimes say things without any social filter. I have struggled with this affliction throughout my entire life," wrote Gelb. "Despite my disability, with hard work, perseverance and God's grace, I built a real estate company that has served the needs of tens of thousands of students since 1994. It is safe and well maintained due to my diligence and the diligence of my management team."
According to Yelp and Google Reviews, Gelb's property company "Del Playa Rentals" has a 1.5 star rating with a number of reviewers warning off potential renters. Many of the reviews report aggressive behavior and vulgar language as well as poor property management and several lawsuits.
The Santa Barbara Police Department is investigating this incident and has referred it to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
[*Editors Note: An earlier version of this article stated edhat had not yet received a response from Mr. Gelb. The article has been updated to reflect his response.]