After much debate and a split vote, the Santa Barbara City Council approved a basketball court and fitness area as part of a planned $1 million renovation of the Cabrillo Ball Field. The decision marked a victory for basketball players and fans who’ve long pushed for hoops near the waterfront.
Designs will be drafted for a junior size court (74’ x 42’), along with a workout zone equipped with 10 exercise stations of stainless steel bars for stretching and strength training. The additions would be installed in the little-used no-man’s-land between the Chromatic Gate and the baseball diamond, which would get a 300-foot home-run fence to separate the areas. Also proposed are improvements to the five-acre park’s entryways, sidewalks, lights, landscaping, and drainage system.
During her presentation to the City Council this Tuesday, Parks & Recreation Director Jill Zachary talked about the drug use, loitering, and other homeless-related crimes that have plagued the park for years. In 2011, the city installed fencing around the bleachers and fitted locks to the bathrooms, and discussions began about how to further enhance the ball field, such as adding a skate park or off-leash dog area.
City Hall eventually settled on the court/fitness-area option, Zachary explained, noting all plans are conceptual at this point and need approvals from the Historic Landmarks Commission and Planning Commission before they can be realized. The court would be drop-in only and not be lit at night, she said. Staff could also remove the hoops when they lock the restrooms at the end of the day. The workout area, which would also feature play mounds for kids, could be used by individuals or organized fitness groups.
The plan was not without opposition. Public commenters and dissenting city councilmembers — Bendy White, Jason Dominguez, and Frank Hotchkiss — worried about noise impacts to the DoubleTree Resort across the street. They said the court is too far removed from neighborhoods to attract enough players and that some of the 19 full courts and four half-courts at various elementary and high schools around the city are already open to the public. Rowdy basketball players would distract those exercising nearby, and balls could easily roll into the street, they said.
Lesley Wiscomb, chair of the Parks & Recreation Commission, said “errant” balls would endanger other park-goers and that a colored court would clash with the bright tones of the Chromatic Gate. Plus, she went on, more play mounds would help direct storm water that periodically floods that part of the park. Dominguez, an avid “street ball” player, said he would be in favor of a new court, just not at that location. He asked if other waterfront options had been properly explored, and he questioned if there was such a demand for beachside basketball, why no players attended the meeting to speak in favor of the Cabrillo Ball Field.
That seemed to touch a nerve with Councilmember Gregg Hart, one of the court’s biggest proponents. “I could have had 300 people in this room,” he said. “This has had a lot of history.” Hart said it’s been a challenge to find a suitable location, and that the Cabrillo Ball Field is one of the few — if not only — places where a seaside court would work. “If you’re interested in basketball near the beach, this is it,” he stated. Hart said similar fears of noise and incompatibility were raised before the approval of the Skater’s Point skate park, which has been an undeniable success.
Mayor Helene Schneider said “upgrades” to the ball field were long overdue. She cast the deciding vote to move ahead with the conceptual plans, explaining it was necessary to “get the ball rolling.”