90.1 FM San Luis Obispo | 91.7 FM Paso Robles | 91.1 FM Cayucos | 95.1 FM Lompoc | 90.9 FM Avila
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cliff erosion and crowded parties, a dangerous combination for Isla Vista

Taller fences are being installed on county land along the Isla Vista bluffs due to cliff erosion and recent falls.
Beth Thornton
Taller fences are being installed on county land along the Isla Vista bluffs due to cliff erosion and recent falls.

New fencing is going up in the town of Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara. Fences are part of the county’s efforts to keep students from falling off unstable cliffs on Del Playa Road.

Over the weekend another person fell from an oceanside balcony while at a party on Del Playa, and during recent storms 45 students were evacuated when another balcony collapsed due to cliff erosion.

There were no injuries reported, but these potentially tragic events come on the heels of an accident last September when Santa Barbara City College student Benjamin Schurmer fell from the bluffs and died. It was the area's 13th fatal fall recorded since the 1990s.

Last week, County Supervisor Laura Capps gave an update on the ongoing efforts to improve safety along the Isla Vista bluffs.

“It’s a dangerous combination of coastal erosion and atmospheric rivers and overcrowding on balconies and apartment buildings,” she said.

Capps has been working to quickly implement an 8-point plan. Higher fences are going up on county land, improved lighting and prickly vegetation are coming soon. A new ordinance took effect this month that gives law enforcement more tools for crowd control, and she said cliffside structures are monitored on a regular basis, but there's only so much the county can do.

“The county does the inspections for them along the bluff, but that inspection is from an engineering perspective not a human behavior perspective and that’s the piece that I’m trying to focus on,” Capps said.

In addition to weekend parties when thousands of young people converge on Del Playa and overload balconies, Capps said most properties on the bluffs are privately owned. The county is working to incentivize property owners and landlords to add more safety features like higher fences.

Jonathan Abboud lives in Isla Vista and is the general manager for the Isla Vista Community Services District. He said education is also a key component.

“Before a storm happens, especially, our staff and some volunteers go door to door just to educate people and let them know about staying away from the bluff edge and the patio and to be safe,” he said.

There is more information on the Isla Vista Community Services District website.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, and has contributed to KQED's statewide radio show The California Report.