The Parks and Recreation Commission met Wednesday evening to discuss current issues concerning and potential renovations to Cabrillo Ball Field—a place now swarming with homelessness, drug use, aggressive behavior, and illicit activities. The meeting, which was open to the public, discussed many possible alternative uses for the field. Among proposed ideas for future park usage were basketball courts, children’s playgrounds, handball courts, football fields, dog runs, and skate parks.
The five-acre plot of land, which was acquired by the city sometime between 1925 and 1927, is in desperate need of refurbishment. According to Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Jill Zachary, one of the more pressing renovations required is that of the bathroom, which was constructed in 1981 and has not seen upgrades since. The total cost of renovations, which would include the aforementioned renovation as well as landscaping renovations, fence and light installations, drainage improvements, and renovations to the Chromatic Gate sculpture, could total upward of $885,000.
Available funding options for renovations come from the city’s general fund, the City Redevelopment Agency, Community Development Block Grants, and community fundraising. According to Zachary, the County Arts Commission has already been contacted regarding private funding for the refurbishment of Chromatic Gate. The idea of partnering with local businesses to reduce costs was also encouraged by community members.
Several recent developments have been made to ensure park safety. These include the installation of a fence and increased police patrol of the area. The public seems to be pleased with the results and welcoming to the changes. Sam Kaiser of Greater Santa Barbara Youth Baseball stated in an email that the improvements brought by the fence and the active duty of the police department have made significant advances to the park’s overall safety.
Yet the public remains eager to see further improvements, feeling that the current conditions of the park leave community members feeling unwelcomed. Matthew La Vine, general manager of Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort, feels that banning RV parking would improve the current state of the park, deducing that the presence of the RVs encourages drug use. Furthermore, La Vine stated that perhaps the Chromatic Gate be replaced with something of more historical significance in order to represent Santa Barbara culture better, as well as to attract tourists. Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Lesley Wiscomb echoed similar views, and was excited by the prospect of introducing a historical element to the park to attract more tourists. In addition, Wiscomb suggested providing a brief history of the Chromatic Gate rather than removing it.
Everyone seemed to agree that the development of new uses for the park should reflect the interest of the public. Yet, community members can’t seem to agree on what exactly the new park uses should be. While some advocated for the children’s playground, aiming the park’s use toward youth, others argued against it, stressing the abundance of other children’s parks in town. There are additional reasons to be wary of youth activity in the park. According to Parks and Recreation Commissioner Beebe Longstreet, youth activity is a safety issue after dark, due to the park’s proximity to the street.
One suggestion put forth by Commissioner Nicolas Ferrara is to use the park to increase female participation in sports by catering to sports that women enjoy. With this notion, Ferrara feels the park could generate revenue by hosting female sporting competitions in sports such as Pro Fastpitch. Many others supported the idea that the park host competitions, whether they be in handball or football. This way, increased use of the park could simultaneously help the neighboring hotels, restaurants, and businesses.
Commissioners and the public alike encourage the multiuse of the park. For instance, some suggestions included a basketball court with a handball wall, a field that could be programmed for specific sports during different seasons, and the installation of a track along the perimeter of the park. Curt Pickering, a youth basketball coach, made a particularly intriguing proposal: He has already been in contact with potential donors, and could have the courts built at no cost to the city.
The overall consensus is that the current condition of the park, while unsafe and unsanitary, holds potential for tremendous opportunity. While the final outcome remains undecided, the commission is open to all possibilities. The goal is create community involvement. “[We] want to make the waterfront property all that it can be, [and make it] vibrant and well used by the community,” said John Dixon, vice president of Tri-County Produce.
Wiscomb reiterated that while funds are not currently available, it is vital to begin planning now. “[I] agree that the strategy is to have plans in place and be ready to go when funds are available,” said Wiscomb.