Political Science Student and Local Government Official: Catherine Flaherty Does It All

News Date: 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021


By Campbell Green


In a crowded room that she shares with three other girls on Del Playa Drive in Isla Vista, Catherine Flaherty sets up her laptop on a makeshift desk and prepares for a Zoom meeting to fulfill her duties as a director of the Isla Vista Community Services District (IVCSD).
Born and raised in Sonoma, California, Flaherty is a senior at UC Santa Barbara, majoring in Political Science and pursuing a minor in Professional Writing, in the Civic Engagement track, as well as a certificate in Technology Management. 
She was elected in 2020 to a two-year term in what is essentially a neighborhood council for the community that borders UCSB.  The District collaborates with public agencies on everything from policing to parking, from housing to graffiti. Flaherty currently serves on subcommittees that deal with night life, arts and cultural events, and overall policy.
Her coursework in American politics sparked a desire to get involved in her own community by running for local office. In a recent interview, she spoke about how she achieved this goal and offered some advice to those with similar aspirations.
Q: What made you want to get involved in local government?
A: I actually didn’t fully mean to end up in local government in college. 
I served as an Associated Students off-campus senator and I also was the Internal Vice President last year. I was really involved in student government, but I honestly didn’t even consider the possibility of entering local government.
It wasn’t until one of my best friends told me that there was an opening. She told me last summer that people will start running for this position, and she thought that it would fit a lot of my interests really well so I should look into it. 
Q: Why did you choose to step into local government as opposed to getting more involved in Associated Students (AS)?
A: I thought it was a really tangible way to do good in the community. I knew AS really well and I love AS, I will always love AS. But I felt that there was more room to grow pursuing local government and I’m very glad that I did.
Q: How is the IV Community District’s role similar and different from a traditional city council?
A: The biggest difference is the Isla Vista Community Services District oversees eight specific municipal services that were historically lacking in our community, while a city council oversees virtually all services provided within city limits and has broad authority to pass local regulations.
Q: What does the role of director of IVCSD entail?
A: As a director, I am responsible for acting on the mission of the district and setting both short and long-term goals for policies and programs. We meet on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, and in between meetings we serve on different subcommittees, meet with county representatives, and various community partners.
Q: How has your experience in the Political Science department at UCSB prepared you for this role?
A: I’m concentrating on American Politics, so my concentration has absolutely prepared me. But there’s only so much you can learn; you just have to do it. There was a learning curve at first for sure, but I do feel prepared to think critically and to look at things through a political lens, which can be weird at first.

I also have kept up my writing skills. That’s important, too, for reaching out to constituents, creating committee reports, and giving presentations.

Q: Did you take any particular courses in the Political Science department that sparked your interest in local government?

A: I loved the prerequisite, American Politics. It was just an overview of the history of the American government and the current climate. That really inspired me to make a difference, and I think one of the best places that you can make a difference is at the local level.

I also took a local government class, and that was during my campaign but that absolutely reaffirmed why I wanted to run for this position, and that was to create change now and right next to us.

Q: What advice would you give to a young student interested in local government?

A: I would say: “Absolutely go for it.” There is nothing more rewarding than being involved in your community...Every little thing helps, and I really encourage every young person to be engaged with your local government because that’s what is most directly affecting you and there is a lot of power in that. Do it especially if you’re passionate about it.

Campbell Green is a Psychological and Brain Sciences major at UC Santa Barbara. She wrote this piece for her Writing Program class, Digital Journalism.