Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department

The final plans for Ortega Park’s estimated $14 million makeover are nearly “shovel ready,” according to Project Manager Justin Van Mullem, who revealed the latest updates during a community event hosted by the City of Santa Barbara at the Eastside park’s Welcome House over the weekend.

An overall plan was approved through the city’s Planning Commission more than a year ago, but in that time, city staff have held several community meetings to nail down specific plans for the murals, swimming pool, and proposed skate park. On Saturday, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department held one final open house to gather public input on the final touches and provide an update on the projected timeline for completion.

The city missed the previous round of federal grants, but Van Mullem said that project planners “want to keep the project moving, so we can get in line for the funding that’s on its way.”

“We want to be shovel ready,” he said. “There are a lot of other grants for parks out there currently.”

In the latest draft, the city dropped the controversial concrete-and-steel fencing proposed in the previous set of plans, opting instead to keep the common areas of the park open at all hours; the new artificial turf field, swimming pool, and skate park areas will be gated and closed after normal park hours.

“People wanted it to be open,” Van Mullem said of the decision to remove the walls.

While the plans for the park’s historic murals remain much the same, the swimming pool was expanded and the skate park was redesigned as a more accessible “all wheels” park. The new park plans are more open and “flexible,” he said, with the community plaza, open grass, and basketball courts serving as programmable space for both private and public events.

Van Mullem added that there are still “a thousand little decisions” to make, including where to place tables, benches, and barbecue pits to best serve the neighborhood residents, but the city is looking forward to finding funding and ultimately starting construction sometime in 2024.

According to the latest draft site plans, here are a few of the park’s biggest pieces that have been set in stone:

Credit: Courtesy Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department


Twelve of the park’s most historic murals will be relocated, re-created, or “reenvisioned” using updated and more accurate imagery in collaboration with local artists and student groups, in the same spirit as when they were first painted decades ago.

Plans for the murals were the result of a long back-and-forth between the city and local artists and activists who spoke out when early plans left the murals out completely. After commissioning a study on the murals, many of which were painted by prominent local artists, the city published a report with the updated plan that would either restore or preserve as much of the original artworks as possible.

Parks & Rec Director Jill Zachary said that as a result of the revitalization, all of the murals currently at the park have now been documented and cataloged in the city’s archives for the first time ever.

Four of the murals will be “reenvisioned” to reflect the artists’ intentions with new additions to represent today’s youth and culture; three of the murals will be re-created as a set in the new pool area as a tribute to the originals and using the same imagery; and 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 the skate park and swimming pool areas. 

As many as 12 all-new murals will also be commissioned throughout the park.

‘All Wheels’ Park

After a study of the land under Ortega Park — which was formerly a slough and garbage dump before becoming a park sometime in the 1930s — found that the water table wouldn’t allow the skate park to be built any deeper than four feet, the city decided to redesign the spot as a more accessible “all wheels” park to welcome bikes, scooters, roller-bladers, and skaters of all types.

The 12,200-square-foot park will have sections with smaller, kid-friendly obstacles and several “zones” for each wheel type to prevent collisions.

“So it’s a little more clear where they would go,” Van Mullem said.

There would also be elements based on the park’s historically popular skate spots, like the three-stair platform designed to replicate the stairs currently near the basketball courts.

Aquatics Area

The new swimming pool will now be nearly seven times larger than the current pool and was expanded from the originally proposed four lanes to six 25-yard lanes with starting blocks, allowing for competitive swim meets to be held at the park for the first time in its history.

The large pool will be 7.5 feet deep and will be open for lap swimming, water aerobics, and swim lessons, along with availability for competitive swimming activities for local clubs.

An “aquatics slide” will be the first of its kind in the city, and a “splash pad” wading pool will serve as an approachable introduction to water play for children. 

Turf Field

A full-size, multi-sport, artificial turf field with all-new lights will allow for pickup games and organized leagues to use the space with a permit as late as 10 p.m.

The current grass field is closed several times throughout the year for maintenance, and the new playing surface will be easier to maintain and more long-lasting. The 92,700-square-foot turf field area will remain fenced off after hours to prevent unpermitted play and additional wear and tear on the surface.

Community Plaza/Open Space

In the latest draft, the city removed many extra elements — bocce ball courts, bean bags, and Ping-Pong tables — to make room for more open and flexible space. Now, the park has more than 33,000 square feet of “community space,” including a plaza, play area, open grass, and a new basketball court.

“We’ve learned how important flexible community space is,” Van Mullem said.

The space could potentially be used for large-scale gatherings or to resurrect some long-forgotten community events like the Menudo and Salsa Festivals, and several community members at the meeting requested spaces with tables and barbecues that could be reserved for small gatherings like at other parks in the city.

City staff are projecting that construction documents will be finalized before June 2023, and after a contract is awarded, construction could break ground in May 2024. For details, visit the Ortega Park Revitalization Project page.

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