Isla Vista bluff known for deadly falls collapses in storm

A bluff in Santa Barbara’s Isla Vista community where several people have fallen to their deaths over the years gave way during the recent storms, and students in an apartment building above the bluff were evacuated as inspectors checked a crumbling balcony.

The terrace on the 6700 block of Del Playa Drive is cracked and hanging off the edge of the bluff, which has been eaten away by coastal erosion over the past few decades. The 45 UC Santa Barbara students who live in the building were evacuated Tuesday morning but allowed back in after an inspector examined the property. No one was injured.

“The bluffs in Isla Vista have been a longtime problem,” said Laura Capps, a Santa Barbara County supervisor who visited the area Tuesday and spoke to students. “This morning it fell. Thankfully, no injuries. They were able to get all the kids out of the apartment.”

The slide occurred around 9:50 a.m. due to “cliff / bluff erosion,” according to Santa Barbara County Fire spokesperson Scott Safechuck. It comes as the record-breaking storms that have buffeted California continue inundating many parts of Southern California with rain.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Garrett Te Slaa was first on scene Tuesday.

He said the department was concerned about possible issues at the bluffs during the rain this week, and said coastal erosion is a constant issue in Isla Vista.

“It’s obvious that the bluff is continuing to erode,” he said. “This is the perfect mix of a saturated bluff and over-capacity balconies.”

Te Slaa said that crews were brought in Tuesday while students were evacuated to install a new fence along the balcony, closer to the property. He said that as coastal erosion continues, the balconies will become smaller.

Capps took a photo from down the bluff that shows the red fence that encircles the balcony hanging over the beach, threatening to tumble into the sand.

The bluffs have made headlines over the years as students and others have fallen to their deaths to the beach below.

Since 1994, 13 people have died in cliff accidents, according to the Santa Barbara Independent.

Most recently, a student, Benjamin Schurmer, died after falling about 40 feet from the bluffs.

Capps proposed an eight-step plan to combat the deaths, including increasing the height of fencing surrounding the 60 or so properties on the bluffs.

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