The Ortega Park mural locations study includes plans to re-create, re-envision, and relocate many of the existing murals while creating several new ones. "Campesinos" (above) will be preserved. | Credit: RRM Design Group

Santa Barbara’s Parks & Recreation department unveiled the latest renderings for the proposed $14 million Ortega Park Master Plan last Thursday, revealing the suggested locations for the 12 reenvisioned, re-created, and relocated murals, along with an already controversial steel-and-concrete gated fence surrounding the park.

It was the second public meeting held at the park’s Welcome House in the past two months, following a June 8 meeting focused on getting public input about the size and location of the new swimming pool. The July 28 meeting revealed the details on the park’s historical murals, which have been at the center of a heated battle led by community activists, who fought back when the earliest master plan called for their complete removal.

Since then, the city gave into public outcry by commissioning a study of the park’s murals, and in the report published in July 2021, an updated plan called for some of the murals to be kept as is and relocated, while others were set to be re-created or reenvisioned in the new park. Five of the 17 murals — depicting Aztec and geometric symbols, a jaguar, a dragon, and a green serpent — were deemed in too poor shape and destined for “documentation and deaccession.”

Four of the murals — “Rainbow Quetzal,” “Codex Cospi,” “La Playa,” and “Aztec Chumash Solstice” — will be “reenvisioned” by local artists to more accurately depict the intention of the original murals. For example, the study found the “Aztec Chumash Solstice” mural did not “represent the Chumash as accurately as the name suggests,” and since it would be difficult to preserve in place or relocate, it will be used as “inspiration for a new mural that is more inclusive and representative of the Chumash-Chicano connection.”

Three of the murals — “Blue Whale,” “Dolphins,” and “Underwater Atlantes/Toltecas” — are proposed to be be “re-created” as a set in the new pool area as a tribute to the original, using the same imagery and motifs repainted by local artists through the Santa Barbara Arts Association and community arts organizations.

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The five most historically significant murals, according to the city’s study — “Cosmic Unity,” “Coatlicue,” “Deportes,” “Campesinos,” and “Niños del Maiz” — will be preserved as much as possible and relocated in full to locations around the new park. Thirteen all-new murals will also be commissioned and placed throughout the park.

City Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez attended the public meeting and said the new plans are “good” but that there is still a lot of public pushback about several aspects of the design, from the pool to the skate park to the look of the new fencing.

“I do have concerns that I’m still wrestling with in my head and need more feedback from the community,” he said. He added that the park as it is now has a very open layout, and the proposed iron bar fencing may not be the best decision. “I really have some strong reservations about fencing off an open public space.”

Several members of the public have started a petition asking the city to rethink the design for the pool and pushing for a larger competitive-sized model, even suggesting the planners remove the proposed skate park to create more space for a full-sized pool.

The $14 million project starts with $1 million from the city’s general fund, with the first $500,000 earmarked for the park improvements in 2023. Grants and sponsorships will likely be key to funding the entire project, and the project is expected to navigate a labyrinth of city review before being finalized.

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