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Fence Isla Vista

A Grassroots Project


If you want something to change, you sometimes have to take matters into your own hands. At least that is what some UCSB students are finding out about an issue close to their hearts – fencing along the bluffs in Isla Vista.

In April, a group of students from the Associated Students Office of the External Vice President for Local Affairs worked with county and local officials on plans to install fencing along the bluffs in Walter Capps Park.

Now, another group of students has created a social media campaign to garner support for safer fencing all along the bluffs.

Cat Neushul

The Fence Isla Vista campaign started out as a project for a political science class. Lauren McGarry, one of the Fence Isla Vista organizers, said she was put into a group with six classmates, and told to pick a topic and develop a social media campaign. “We really wanted to do something local in which we would be able to see change,” McGarry said.

When it came time for McGarry’s group to pick a topic, tragic events inspired their choice. An 18-year-old Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student named Giselle Esme Ayala fell from the cliffs and died during this year’s Deltopia celebration in April. There is a video on the Fence Isla Vista Facebook page about Ayala. Another student, David Propp, died in November. “There were two deaths so close together,” she said. “We really wanted to increase awareness of cliff-related falls.”

The Fence Isla Vista group included Lauren McGarry, Alex Stoeber, Christie Margaris, Nil Roda-Naccari Noguera, Clayton Ryan, Chenisha Sangha, Natasha Lubega, and a volunteer, Molly Morrison. The group posted information and a petition on the Facebook page it created.

Getting Information About Cliff Falls Wasn’t Easy: McGarry said it was hard to find statistics related to cliff falls. She said she had contacted local police departments, county officials, and UCSB representatives, but no one had the information at hand. From scouring local newspapers, she was able to come up with a list of people who had fallen, though not all of them fatally, from the cliffs from 2001 to now. She said that seven people had fallen from 2012-13. McGarry said this was eye opening for members of her group. “No one knew about the [extent of the] dangers of the cliffs. We just knew about the two deaths,” she explained.

On the group’s Facebook page you can find a fence safety map, which shows exactly where the dangers lie. “We went around door to door on Del Playa, looked at fences, measured them, and pinpointed fences we found to be especially weak,” McGarry said. “We wanted to target all fencing, primarily residential fencing, where crowded parties often occur, leaving room for accidents,” McGarry said.

Fence Isla Vista Map
Click to enlarge photo

Fence Isla Vista

Fence Isla Vista Map

The map legend identifies residences by color:

• red for houses with old, unstable, or short fences

• orange for houses with fences 41 inches and below

• yellow for houses with fences 42 inches or higher, but less than four feet

• green for tall, stable fences that are four feet and higher

Needless to say, perhaps, the map shows a preponderance of houses with orange and yellow labels, a handful of residences with green, and one with red. Recently, McGarry said, Santa Barbara County increased the fence height requirements for properties along Del Playa from three feet to 3.5 feet. However, McGarry said this ordinance would only effect new development.

Goals for Next Year: The petition on the Facebook page states, “Fence Isla Vista aims at better protecting Isla Vista residents and visitors by improving current fencing safety standards along the cliffs on Del Playa.” So far, 290 people have signed the petition.

Another tactic the group is considering is contacting landlords individually to ask them to improve fence safety on their properties, McGarry said. The campaign isn’t going to die out, she added, even though the project started out as a class assignment and many of the organizers are graduating. Fence Isla Vista is in discussion with representatives from Associated Students at UCSB to continue the work. “We are trying to make a committee or special project through Associated Students for fence safety,” she said.

Fence Isla Vista is also interested in using education to combat this problem. “We are trying to include a slide in the mandatory presentation freshman have to look at before attending UCSB.” She added, “We feel as though this would be a great way to increase awareness of cliff-related falls and injuries.”

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