Description:

Isla Vista is an unincorporated community on the outskirts of University of California, Santa Barbara. The current Census of 2010 recorded a population of 23,096. The majority of residents in Isla Vista are usually college students from the University of California, Santa Barbara or Santa Barbara City College. The most popular location for students to reside on is beach-side Del Playa, or as students call it- DP. The DP community is elevated 30-60 feet on eroding bluffs, with a direct view of the Pacific Ocean. Although the bluffs are quickly receding and eroding, the appeal of living beachside still prevails. Recently this appeal has been a bit alarming to some prospective students looking for an apartment to lease in Isla Vista. On Sunday Jan 22, 2017, Isla Vista Cliffs recently collapsed. at 66 Del Playa. The eroding cliffs fell into the ocean bringing along a chunk of the balcony.                           

Santa Barbara Independent 

Erosion is a natural process caused by wind, water, and other natural agents. The erosion in Isla Vista is mainly caused by the waves hitting the cliffs. However, human activities can increase erosion. Urban and suburban development can intensify erosion if developers ignore the natural state of the land. The Bottom Line (UCSB) discovered that the problem on 66 Del Playa was ignored when developer Gelb never warned his residents of the danger his property may face. Students claim that there had been a crack in the patio that kept getting bigger. The crack was filled in earlier in the week.

Four apartments units had to be removed causing displacement of 35 students who had to be evacuated. Thankfully, no one was injured (Santa Barbara Independent). In previous cases, balconies have tended to collapse due to overcapacity of people partying on them. However, recent scenarios have been caused by the disappearance of the cliffs. These ocean side apartments on Del Playa attract students with their beautiful views, however students may now think twice about leasing at their own risk. At the rate of 6 inches per year of erosion, drastic measures and safety policies are going to need to be put in place in order to ensure the safety of renters. Over the course of the century, there may be a  complete removal of the apartments because there will no longer be enough bluffs to support them. As for the students who were affected, the University has offered Tropicana Gardens as a place to reside for the remaining school year. 

The general thoughts on living on DP ocean side are mixed but lean more towards avoiding the risks that come with living there given the recent collapse on the 66 block of Del Playa Drive. There are some students, of course, who would still like to experience the thrill of living right by the beach, but it is obvious that people are beginning to be more and more concerned about the eroding cliffs that can possibly destroy parts of their home. 

How Fast are the Cliffs Eroding? A Glimpse into the 1980s

UCSB students in the 6693 backyard, circa mid-1980s [1]

 

A UCSB student (who did not want to be pictured) circa mid-1980 [1]

We know the cliffs along Del Playa are eroding, but how fast? An interview with Jenna (Martin) Bunnell, UCSB class of '86, was able to give us some insight.

"From the balcony, the cliffs extended for at least another 15 feet."

Bunnell lived in 6693 on Del Playa with several of her friends from Fall 1984-Winter 1986. She fondly remembers the mushrooms that grew in the hallway of her house ("We kept them around for laughs"), the year their friends held an unofficial triathlon across campus, and lounging around in a backyard that's no longer there.

The backyard at 6693 was often used as a place for Bunnell and her housemates to relax, study, or hangout with friends. She also mentioned that it was "a great place for everyone to meet up if someone wanted to throw a party." In a world before cellular phones, Bunnell among others often didn't photograph the Del Playa cliffs alone. However, she and her housemates would often bring out the camera when everyone gathered on the cliff for a party or just a day of relaxation. The backyard cliffs were a prime spot for Isla Vista locals such as Bunnell and her friends. The photos, courtesy of Bunnell and her housemates, show the extended cliff backyard for 6693. In the photo of the student who did not wish to be pictured, the extended cliff can also be seen for the Window to the Sea park and 6685 and 6679 Del Playa.

J Bunnell's picture of 6693 and Window to the Sea Park (July 26, 2011) [1]

J Bunnell and daughter (May 14, 2017) [1]

Bunnell: Summer 2011

Bunnell returned to Santa Barbara in July of 2011 with her husband David, who lived in Isla Vista from 1984-1987, and their two children.

Bunnell recalls her initial reaction to seeing the backyard. "I was surprised to see how fast the ocean eroded away the cliff. There used to be the balcony, a little grassy area that stretched out for a bit, and then another fence." (The wooden log-like fence can be seen in the group shot in the group shot of the 1980s students.)

There was little left of Bunnell's old backyard. As of 2011, only a small strip of the grassy backyard (about 5 feet wide) between the balcony and cliff was left.

Bunnell: Spring 2017

In May of 2017, Bunnell stopped by 6693 on her way through Santa Barbara. She once again checked on her old house only to realize that only the balcony attached to the house is left.

Bunnell was interviewed May 2017. [2]

 

The Cliffs Today: What's left?

6693 (June 2017) [3]

6693 Balcony (June 2017) [3]What's left of the extended cliff backyard? Unfortunately, not much.

Years of the ocean pounding the cliff has eroded away the original backyard, leaving nothing but a small, two foot strip of cliff extended from the balcony.

The house is currently occupied by 10 guys, 7 in the bottom unit and 3 on the top. Evan Walker, UCSB class of '18, has been living in the house since July of 2016.

 

A view of 6685 from 6693 (June 2017) [3]"The ocean can be pretty intimating." Walker said that during high tide, the constant pounding of the ocean against the cliff below his house can be "as loud as a gunshot."

Walker and his friends can calculate about how much the cliff has eroded from the Camino Del Sur Beach Entrance, which gives them a clear view of their 6693 backyard. "[They] have definitely noticed a slight receding just by eyeing it."

Walker and his housemates aren't the only ones who have noticed the receding cliff. This year the landlord, with cliff erosion on his mind, brought back the lower level balcony by 10 feet. The job, which started in June 2016 and ended mid-December, was supposed to end in August. Less than 6 months later, the current 6693 residents received yet another letter saying the landlord might remodel the house to move it back again.

Residents Aaron Sloa and Evan Walker (pictured right) and their hammock (June 2017) [3]

 

Walker plans to live on Del Playa for his fourth year at Santa Barbara, but this next time he won't live on the cliffs.

"I wouldn't say that we are scared, just worried." He will also be able to dodge more erosion-related remodeling if he is living on the other side of Del Playa.

Walker laughed when showed a picture of the 1980s residents of 6693. "We have a hammock too."

Although there is less space than before, today's 6693 residents have adapted. The balcony serves the same function as the extended cliff backyard: a place to relax, study, or hangout with friends. However, just like the cliffs, the definition of a good time has changed over the years. "We consider it a success if the backyard doesn't fall in."

A special thanks to Aaron Sloa and Evan Walker, whose breakfast was interrupted during the interview (June 2017.) [4]
 

 

Footnotes

1. Photos taken by Jenna/David Bunnell

2. Interview with Jenna (Martin) Bunnell took place May 2017

3. Photos taken by Bronwyn Bunnell

2. Interview with Evan Walker took place June 2017.

References

Goldman, Sam. Isla Vista is Disappearing. The Santa Barbara Independent. Web. 6 Nov. 2015. http://www.independent.com/news/2015/nov/06/isla-vistas-disappearing/

 Burns, Melinda. As Isla Vista Bluffs Retreat, So Do Del Playa Apartments. Santa Barbara

Independent. Web. Jan. 2017. http://www.independent.com/news/2017/jan/27/isla-vista-bluffs-retreat-apartments-del-playa/

The Bottom Line. "Del Playa Drive Threatened By Erosion." UCSB, 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 5 June 2017. https://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2011/02/del-playa-drive-threatened-by-erosion#comments

 Data USA. "Isla Vista, CA." Data USA. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 June 2017. <https://datausa.io/profile/geo/isla-vista-ca/#healthcare>.

Walker, Evan. Personal Interview. June 5, 2017.