Headline History: Beware of the Cliffs of Isla Vista: A History of the Erosion of DP Cliffs

The University of California, Santa Barbara, has a reputation for being a fun, exciting party school on the beach that just happens to be a top public research facility. It is rumored that there are parties by the beach every weekend and, if you would believe the propaganda, it is sunny every day! Some people do not know that the beach is far below us, some thirty to seventy feet off UCSB’s favorite street, Del Playa Drive, commonly known as simply “DP.” Another thing that some of the residents of UCSB’s college town, Isla Vista, and residents of Ocean Side DP do not know is that someday, the beaches and houses on top of the cliffs may be gone.  

Daily Nexus | 19 October 1990

This article by reporter Jason Hatch, titled Bluff Erosion Threatens to Condemn Houses Perched on D.P. Cliffs describes the future of cliff erosion and includes a quotation by a local geologist, Brian Baca, about the future loss of the houses on the street, Del Playa. UCSB geology professor Dr. Richard M. Norris explained to Hatch that: “The Del Playa cliffs erode at an average rate of six inches per year, amounting to a total of 10 feet over the past 20 years.” Since 1990 it is evident that the cliffs have eroded even more. As a result, residents of Isla Vista and those who visit the houses on the cliff and the beaches below should remain vigilant of the potential dangers of cliff erosion. 

It is also stated that some of this erosion is because of “waves hitting the bluffs, while the other half is caused by such factors as rope ladders, rain running down the face of the cliffs, and poor drainage from apartments.” Some of these factors are changeable, but for the most part, the erosion of these cliffs is inevitable. 

The article continues in a second section in which Norris elaborates, “It would be better off to buy the houses and get rid of them entirely.” Anyone who has visited DP or looked at it on Google Maps could tell you that despite this suggestion over thirty years ago, the street is still densely populated. DP is even more densely populated on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night!

Daily Nexus | 22 April 1980

The warning from the 1990 article is exemplified in this article from ten years earlier. In the article, Isla Vista Tenants Given $250 For Loss of  Porch into Ocean, written by Cindy Meyers, one can see that the erosion of the cliffs caused actual monetary repercussions for people. The five house residents won the money from their landlord after not one but two court battles! The article also continues on to say that two years before, in March of 1978, two other houses also lost their porches to erosion. So, if you plan to live on DP, at least there’s one way to recoup your rent. 

After reading this article, it will be apparent to you that the cliffs of Isla Vista are indeed a point of danger, but it is a danger that people come to live on Del Play Drive despite. And this is for a good reason! These cliffs are characteristic of this great college town, and while dangerous, they are also scenic and a big part of going to school at UCSB. The views from the ocean’s edge and the Channel Islands beyond are extraordinary. Standing on the edge of the cliffs on the west end of DP to watch the sunset and laying on the beach with the cliffs behind you are essential UCSB experiences! Not to mention, where else could you brag about going to school on the beach? 

Chynna Walker is a third-year student and a recent transfer to UCSB. She is a History Major and English Minor. When not studying or working, she likes to take her life into her own hands and take her dog for long walks along the beach below the cliffs.