Ambitious new plans to expand both the recreational opportunities and special events now offered at Elings Park may be dead on arrival given the terminal lack of love they received last Thursday night by park neighbors and the even frostier reaction by members of Santa Barbara’s Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission during a joint hearing that dragged on for more than four hours. At first blush, the specific bone of contention appeared to be technical and limited: Had the Draft Environmental Impact Report adequately assessed the full impacts of the proposed new development? The immediate answer, according to all the commissioners-as well as the majority of people who packed the City Council chambers to speak-was emphatically “no.” According to many speakers, the report utterly failed to describe the full extent of noise and light pollution the expanded park operations would generate. Worse, they argued, the report failed to provide meaningful descriptions of feasible alternatives that might impose less of an impact on nearby streets and residents. But even more damaging were allegations that the park’s existing operations-especially the wedding parties held at the park’s Godric Grove-inflicted an unfair burden on the park’s immediate neighbors.
More than one speaker complained that amplified music from Godric Grove overwhelmed the volume of their televisions, even with the doors shut and the windows closed. One planning commissioner who lives near the park-John Jostes-complained that the noise was so bad that he’d called the police multiple times. Jostes had recused himself from participating as a commissioner because of his proximity to the park and testified strictly as an individual. But Planning Commissioner Stella Larson, who chaired the meeting, had similar gripes; however, she lives far enough from the park that she didn’t have to recuse herself. Larson recounted that she called the park one time to complain about the noise generated by an annual mountain bike event held there. Larson said she was informed she could not be hearing the sounds about which she was complaining. “I thought they were barking up the wrong lady with that remark,” she recounted. Planning Commissioner Addison Thompson was dramatically underwhelmed by the report’s recommendation that ambient noise from the park should be monitored. “To say it should be ‘monitored’ is toothless,” he said. “So it’s monitored-then what?”
The Elings Park Foundation has proposed a number of major changes: adding two new soccer fields with night lighting, moving the BMX track from its current location to a new and as-yet undeveloped site that’s owned by the foundation and adjacent to the existing park, and creating an 18-hole Frisbee golf course, a dog-walking area, batting cages, a hillside amphitheater, and a new 13,000-square-foot community building capable of hosting large-scale weddings, corporate retreats, and other events sufficiently lucrative to finance the park’s expansion and future operations. In addition, the foundation has proposed hosting 12 events a year for up to 1,000 people. Trish Allen, the land use consultant hired by the foundation, noted there’s a severe shortage of available soccer fields; even with the two new fields, she said Santa Barbara would still face a sports-field shortfall 18.7-acres big. Allen, like a handful of speakers who voiced support for the new BMX track, said the night lights would be necessary only 36 evenings of the year, and then only between the hours of 6 and 8 p.m.
City of Santa Barbara