Fences along beach cliffs near UCSB will be made taller after 13 fatal falls

As part of a plan to prevent people from falling off the cliffs near the University of California, Santa Barbara, fences will be raised to 6 feet.

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The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved the proposal, part of Supervisor Laura Capps’ eight-point plan for Isla Vista bluff safety.

In the past 30 years, 13 people have died in falls from the cliffs overlooking the beach, which are up to 50 feet tall. The most recent death was that of 19-year-old Benny Schurmer on Labor Day weekend this year.

Along unincorporated Isla Vista’s Del Playa Drive — home to many UCSB students — the small parks lining the bluff currently have three-rail fences, 4 feet tall, with chain link stapled over them.

Capps’ plan also calls for better lighting and shrubbery that deters people from trespassing on the cliff’s edge.

The warning signs posted on the fences, she noted, are often stolen and turn up on the walls of dorm rooms and apartments. They show a stick figure falling backward on a crumbling edge, with the warning “Danger: Cliff. Do not enter. Risk of serious injury or death.”

To dissuade people from going past the fence to urinate, five portable toilets have recently been put along Del Playa Drive, and the board plans to “pursue more permanent bathroom options,” Capps’ plan says.

Almost all those known to have died from falls at the Isla Vista cliffs since 1994 were college students. They were:

• Benny Schurmer, 19; Sept. 2, 2023. A Santa Barbara City College student from Ojai, he fell around 11 p.m. on a Saturday on the 6700 block of Del Playa.

• Chasen Alibrando, 26; April 29, 2022. A UCSB alumnus from Santa Monica, he fell just before midnight on a Friday in the 6600 block of Del Playa Drive.

• Alessandro Esquivel, 20; Oct. 20, 2018. The Downey man had attended UCSB but wasn’t enrolled at the time of his death. His body was discovered at 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday near Camino Del Sur Beach.

• Sierra Markee-Winkler, 20; May 4, 2014. A UCSB student who had been valedictorian at Nevada Union High in Grass Valley, she was found dead below Sea Lookout Park in the 6700 block of Del Playa. Her friends said she had run toward the bluffs after a Saturday night of partying, saying she needed to calm down after an argument with a roommate.

• Giselle Ayala, 18; April 6, 2013. The Cal Poly student from Santa Rosa had gone to Isla Vista for spring break. Her friends last saw her around 11 p.m. outside a party at a cliffside home.

• David Propp, 21; Nov. 9, 2012. The UCSB student was found dead on the beach below the 6500 block of Del Playa.

• Noah Krom, 22; June 6, 2009. A week before he was to graduate from UCSB, Krom, from Irvine, was found dead on a Saturday morning on the beach below the 6600 block of Del Playa.

• Tyler VonRuden, 22; Sept. 25, 2005. A Santa Barbara City College student and Home Depot employee, he was found dead on a Saturday morning by a jogger on the beach below the 6700 block of Del Playa.

• Robert Caraval, 25; June 4, 2003. A former UCSB student from San Jose, he was reportedly in Isla Vista for a friend’s graduation. Witnesses said he was outside the fence “going from party to party” before he fell to the beach below the 6600 block of Del Playa.

• Timothy Baptista, 20; May 6, 2001. The Santa Barbara City College student was attending a friend’s party in the 6500 block of Del Playa when he fell from the cliff in the early hours of a Sunday.

• Clint McDonnell, 20; March 3, 2001. The Santa Barbara City College student was at a party on the 6600 block of Del Playa and was last seen dancing near the fence on the bluff.

• Andrew Litvinchuk, 19;  Jan. 17, 1997. The Camarillo teen was reportedly visiting friends in Isla Vista and was last seen at a party on the 6600 block of Del Playa. His body was recovered from the ocean several miles from where he was thought to have fallen; the coroner determined he died not from drowning but from injuries caused by the fall.

• Brian Scott Miller, 21; Aug. 7, 1994. A UCLA student from Newbury Park (Ventura County), he fell over a fence at a friend’s Del Playa apartment. A witness told the Los Angeles Times that Miller had been feeling ill after a night of drinking and stood on a bench so he could lean over the fence to vomit.

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