Central Coast community has strategy to prevent fatal cliff falls: portable toilets

The Isla Vista Community Services District is installing several portable toilets around the community and talked about possible fencing improvements after a fatal cliff fall.

The $15,000 in restroom funding and the discussion follow the death of local college student Benjamin Scott Schurmer, was killed after falling from the Isla Vista bluffs this month.

There have been 13 deaths of people falling from the cliffs in the past 30 years, and many more fall incidents from the cliffs and bluff balconies that have injured people.

In many incidents, it’s believed that victims were relieving themselves when they fell, according to IVCSD Director Spencer Brandt.

One portable toilet already has been placed in Walter Capps Park, and five or six more will be added in various spots along Del Playa Drive.

“The goal is to provide more restroom accessibility,” Brandt said. “I’ve heard from constituents for a number of years that it is challenging to find a place to use the restroom on Del Playa.”

The IVCSD allocated the restroom funding Tuesday and talked about other safety improvements such as fencing. Public areas of oceanside Del Playa Drive are fenced at the bluff edges and have been for several years.

Brandt told Noozhawk that he recently visited Dana Point in Orange County, where he saw large plexiglass non-scalable fences.

“I think that’s something that could really make a difference on Del Playa,” Brandt said.

It might be awhile until residents see any changes to fencing, if it moves forward, since a project like that would need approval from county and California Coastal Commission representatives. However, cliff and bluff safety remains an important issue for IVCSD.

Following the death of Santa Monica resident Chasen Alibrando, who fatally fell from oceanside bluffs in Isla Vista in April 2022, the IVCSD started a cliff safety campaign to spread information about the danger associated with the bluffs.

It’s continuing those efforts as the school year begins for UC Santa Barbara, according to Brandt.

He said the district staff and board are also thinking of designing a memorial for all of the people who have died from falling off the cliffs, to pay tribute to victims and educate the community.

Schurmer, who died Sept. 2, was a 19-year-old Santa Barbara City College student majoring in theater arts. One of his acting teachers described him as “one of the most positive, warm, kind and talented people” she had ever met.

“Our goal is for this to be the last person that ever dies in this manner,” Brandt said. “We know that that’s not entirely in anyone’s control because these bluffs are becoming more dangerous with climate change and erosion, but we’re entirely committed to doing what we can.”

Santa Barbara County Second District Supervisor Laura Capps told Noozhawk that she’s spoken to the parents of fall victims about ways to improve cliff safety. Her office helped make sure that there was at least one portable restroom in place until more come in.

“I want to honor Benny’s life by doing everything that I can to protect our young people,” Capps said. “Our job in the county is to protect people, especially young people. I feel that very deeply.”

Noozhawk staff writer Rebecca Caraway can be reached at rcaraway@noozhawk.com . Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk , @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz . Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook .