A new public-outreach effort will be launched this week to determine just how passionately Santa Barbara’s Eastside residents care about the murals of Ortega Park — unique throughout California in their blend of Aztec, Chumash, and Chicano themes — and to what lengths City Hall can and should go to preserve them.
Initially, it appeared as though the murals — many painted by Eastside residents back in the late 1970s — would have to go the way of the dodo bird if the council were to pursue an $8.5 million application for grants earmarked for park improvements in underserved neighborhoods. Those funds, if secured, would cover part of the costs for a major makeover of Ortega Park that included the installation of a heated swimming pool, new synthetic turf playing fields, and a skateboard park, among many other things. Left notably absent from these plans, however, was a provision for some or any of the murals.
When supporters of the murals objected — and even the Historic Landmarks Commission opined that more public outreach was necessary — Parks and Recreation officials said there was no time. The March 14 deadline for the grant application, they argued, did not allow further outreach. Given the intensity of the campaign waged by mural supporters, City Administrator Paul Casey pulled the grant application off the agenda and indicated that perhaps City Hall would not seek the onetime-only grant funds after all.
Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez, whose district includes Ortega Park, intervened to broker a deal between city officials and mural advocates so that the grant application could be submitted before its deadline expired and expanded outreach could take place. For her efforts, Gutierrez was effusively praised by her council colleagues during last week’s council meeting. This week, the council approved the $23,000 to cover the cost of the new expanded outreach efforts, with the first meeting to be held Wednesday, March 17.