A swarm of movers and shakers assembled at Bohnett Park on San Pascual Street this Thursday to celebrate the unveiling of a new 80-foot-wide mural titled “Rise Above,” the first of a series of changes and improvements slated for the intensely used, but much maligned, Westside park. “Bohnett Park is ground zero for revitalizing the Westside,” declared Mark Alvarado, a neighborhood outreach specialist with City Hall. “It has to start there. It’s the focal point. Where else is there?”
In addition to the sports-themed mural — designed by well-known Santa Barbara muralist Manuel Unzueta and his daughter, Annette Unzueta — a host of nonprofits, private businesses, City Hall, and the Westside Boys and Girls Club conspired to fix the park’s outdoor basketball court, resealing the cracked and weedy surface, replacing the possibly bullet-riddled backboards with bullet-resistant ones, installing new poles, painting the court the Lakers’ signature purple and gold, and installing new lights. Likewise, the park’s handball court has been fixed and restriped, and much of the park’s thick undergrowth will be removed to eliminate hiding places for those engaged in unlawful activities.
Despite the park’s intense use, it’s long been associated with gang activity. “We’re trying to attract more families,” said Magda Arroyo of the Boys and Girls Club. To that end, Bohnett Park will host a major health fair and family day celebration September 22, and the week before that, 100 volunteers have committed themselves to a major pruning and landscaping effort. Park users and neighborhood residents will soon be surveyed to see what activities and accommodations they most need and desire. One issue is whether the park’s three-quarter-sized soccer field, much thrashed, should be replaced with artificial turf. In the meantime, City Hall is preparing to apply for a federal grant through the Department of Housing and Urban Development for an even more dramatic facelift.