If Not Ortega Park, Where for a Public Pool?

By Victoria Valente and the SB Aquatics Coalition

Santa Barbara is seriously behind the times when it comes to public pool facilities. According to the 2003 Aquatics Complex Feasibility Study, the City should be providing its residents between 40,000 and 120,000 square feet of water surface area. In contrast, we have a meager 10,000 square feet and insufficient plans to build more. For more information on these figures, see the appropriate link in our petition.

The SB Aquatics Coalition urges the City of Santa Barbara to step things up a notch. Although our ranks include some of the best aquatics minds in the country, we have yet to influence the new Ortega Park pool facilities design.

This is an open letter to the City Council of Santa Barbara regarding the community pool at Ortega Park. If you agree with our proposed site design, which includes a slightly larger pool facility than the City of Santa Barbara is proposing in their official Master Plan, please sign this petition: change.org/change-the-design

You can also send an email directly to City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission Secretary at:

Dear Mayor and City Council, and the Parks and Recreation Commission,

The aquatics community’s invitation to the table, held June 8, 2022, was FOUR years overdue.

The aquatics facilities design was decided in the summer of 2018, via unilateral Parks & Recreation decision, without a single workshop for the aquatics community.

In contrast, specialized skatepark meetings which serve a small percentage of the community were held May 2019 and March 2020. Meetings were held in March/April 2021 to address the lack of consideration for the historic murals in the park, and in 2022, to allow SOPAC (a not-so-grassroots-organization) to plan the new artwork lay-out.

A wide variety of aquatics people and Eastside residents have spoken to us regarding Ortega Park, and we have taken this input to heart. The City’s proposed design is too small in pool and deck space, provides insufficient options for simultaneous programming, and eliminates the gathering area outside the Welcome House.

The design proposed in this petition serves community members of all ages and abilities, those who can swim and those who want to learn. Most importantly, it takes into account community input, but also input from the aquatics community, and works to fulfill the unmet NEEDS of Santa Barbara which have persisted for decades.

This design also allows space for the 8,000 square foot skate park depicted in the 2019 Master Plan, which might be programmed for younger youth.

The Ortega Park Renovation Project provides a Golden Opportunity to provide larger aquatics facilities for the community. This location is where a high percentage of Santa Barbara children actually reside, and allows the SPACE to construct these facilities, SPACE that is not likely to be available anywhere within the City limits in the future.

A modest sized aquatics complex that can serve the greatest number of our community members, like the example shown here MUST be built at Ortega Park and SOON.

If not Ortega Park, then WHERE???

SB Aquatics Coalition


In 1979, plans were in the works for a major aquatics complex at Elings Park. A scaled model was displayed in the office of Richard Johns, Parks and Recreation Director at the time. Sadly, this plan was discarded due to neighborhood protest, as well as issues related to the site being a former garbage dump – issues that could have been overcome.

In 2003, the City of Santa Barbara needed further convincing regarding the City’s need for a major aquatics complex. This need was officially identified in the 2003 Aquatics Complex Feasibility Study. Appendix D of this report states that, for a city the size of ours, we need to QUADRUPLE the pool space that is currently offered by the City of Santa Barbara.

Unfortunately, a major aquatics complex will never be built at the Los Banos location as is recommended in this report, due to its historic landmark status, as well as the nesting birds issue.

Alternative sites have been proposed: The Armory, which now belongs to the SBUSD (not an option), and sites on County land which might be appropriate for a MAJOR aquatics center. However, this will never happen in our lifetime, and such proposed locations are not where the majority of SB children reside — children without access to swim instruction, and children of families for whom transportation to proposed County sites might present an obstacle.

March 27, 2021 Santa Barbara Aquatics Coalition launches its first petition for BETTER aquatics facilities:  https://www.change.org/AquaticsOrtegaPark

The City’s proposed design,  updated spring 2022, is improved, yet provides only one pool, with insufficient deck space, therefore, is insufficient for simultaneous programming options which, according to USA Swimming is a PITFALL in pool facilities design.

The City’s design also eliminates the community gathering area outside the Welcome House.


This proposed site plan has received input from Eastside residents and key members of the aquatics community.


  • Modest-sized Aquatic Center includes 25 yard x 6 lane competition pool (80 degrees), a 4 lane warm water pool (84 degrees), a wading pool, and a water slide.
  • Two pools allow for multiple programs run simultaneously: Swim lessons for all ages and abilities, lap swim, aqua aerobics, novice swim team, intermediate/advanced age groups swim team, water polo, open recreational swim.
  • Splash pad to be added outside the pool enclosure.
  • Unfenced, natural grass soccer field and other grassy areas irrigated with existing recycled water system.
  • Community gathering area outside the Welcome House is preserved and need not be fenced in. Provides easy access to kitchen/snack bar, restrooms, meeting area.
  • New basketball court is placed at this location (approx. existing location), as it can be vacated when large gatherings are scheduled.
  • The grove of beautiful evergreen trees is preserved, for picnic area, light recreation.
  • Potential sites for cultural displays, and
  • Community gatherings and cultural activities accommodated by main Gathering Area, tree grove/picnic area, other picnic areas, and grassy spaces around the perimeter of the park.
  • Landscaping (including paths) need to be added to this design. An impressionistic palate over contrived patterns would be appreciated.
  • An abundance of play equipment needs to be added to playground areas.
  • Basic adult exercise equipment to be added to the park perimeter.
  • Picnic tables, seating, spectator areas, and shade pergolas (where appropriate) to be added to Welcome House patio, evergreen tree grove, playgrounds, skatepark, and aquatics area.
  • Artwork and mural layout needs to be addressed by the art community, due to building re-arrangement. It is possible to save certain pieces of culturally significant art, in the vicinity of the Gathering Area. More art opportunities can be created through the addition or partial walls/partitions.
  • Two Solstice Parade staging areas are possible: The Gathering Area, and/or the soccer field.
  • It is preferable that the skatepark be designed for elementary school children. The image of the skatepark from the 2019 Master Plan is included in this design.


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  1. Victoria — The Ortega Park plan (as it stands) is the result of literally dozens and dozens of meetings over years and years. You wanted the entire thing to be an aquatics facility throughout that process, park for the Eastside be damned, and you lost. The Eastside kids need a park and a pool. The finalized design gives them both.
    Our common ground is that right now, there’s no funding for ANY of it because our himming and hawing over the murals cost us around $8 million of state grant funding that otherwise would’ve been a relative shoe-in. We have a plan that’s shovel ready now… let’s demand the funding and finally give the kids on the Eastside the park and pool they deserve… before today’s 8-year-olds are 18., It’s been years of community process to get here. No one is starting over.

  2. Good suggested changes, and I agree it is taking too long! Also, security or some type of safety patrols, would be good because of the element that has been attracted to Ortega park. I remember, way too long ago (almost 40 years!!), going to SBJHS and walking by the park and seeing people shooting up heroin there. I can only imagine with our homeless situation that it probably still has issues like that.

  3. Why would you cater to this ignorant, tribalistic behavior? Besides, there is an ocean that straddles both sides of this incredibly stupid situation. The small % of gangbangers that can and do swim, can fight it out in the ocean. We can watch from the wharf, sell tickets snacks and place bets while saving millions in criminal costs – if enough of them drown themselves… Santa Barbara squid games for Gangbangers. Could be a mega-hit!

    • AHCHOO – Yeah, but for a lot of people (especially new swimmers and kids), swimming in the ocean is not ideal and can even be frightening. I guess what I’m saying is, just because we have a beautiful beaches and the ocean, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have public swimming pools. People learning to swim should have the ability to do so in a safe and accessible pool. Waves, pollution (especially in the harbor), sea life, temperature, etc can all be a difficult barrier to overcome to those wanting to learn to swim and even for those who just want to exercise who don’t have the luxury of a club membership or residential pool.

  4. We have the “BIGLY BLUE PACIFIC OCEAN” in our front yard for all to use, and very low maintenance. But there is a WARNING out there at times: Rip Tides, Strong Currents, Bacteria, and Sharks. So our “BIGLY BLUE PACIFIC OCEAN” can be closed for a few days, and afterwards fun in the sun and swimming lessons for the kids. (Plus ocean waters builds good strong muscles for the kids).

  5. If you are a gang member, you are an idiot. If you allow your kid become a gang member, you are an idiot. If you elect people who believe Latino gang culture is more important than US culture or adherence to the law, you are an idiot. So yes, stupidity runs deep on this issue. There is nothing intelligent about these people and their allegiance to a random street, direction, zip code or bandana color. Just imagine how much better we’d all be without these criminals, scofflaws, liars and cheats clogging up our lives with their silence, hate and ignorance?

  6. The kiddie pool should be resurrected after the trees get cut back and stank birds go elsewhere. Make it a saltwater pool.
    Next, construct said pool/recreational facility at Ortega. Don’t go overboard with budget. Rent/lease it out (camps, lessons, leagues, events, etc.) to recover costs to taxpayers, while maintaining a clean, excellent public facility on the lower east side of town. Must include complete fencing and well-posted signage to delineate hours of operation. Lock at night. This must not become another homeless person or general hangout for loiterers.

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