Op-Ed: Revising the Ortega Park Master Plan IS Urgent
By Anna Marie Gott
Councilmembers, Commissioners and Board Members,
Have you noticed that Jill Zachary can't, or won't, give the public or the City Council a straight answer on when the swimming pool will be built if the Ortega Park Master Plan is approved without changes? Well, last night, from the proverbial horse's mouth, we have the "not to be shared with the community" answer.
Her estimate? It will be 8 to 10 years before a new swimming pool is built at Ortega Park. Yes, you read that correctly.
How do I know? Ms. Zachary disclosed this little tidbit to one of our City Coucilmembers, who shall remain nameless, that her best estimate is that it would take 8 to 10 years before a new pool is built at Ortega Park.
Why? Between the grant and the lack of funding on the City's part the City won't have the money necessary to complete the project today. Preserving the historic and culturally significant cluster of murals, changing the location and size of the aquatics facilities, building a skate-park, and then completely refurbishing Ortega Park in one phase can't be done with such limited funds. This is why the Ortega Park Master Plan is in phases and the meager aquatics facility is "not part of the project".
So, if the funding won't pay for an aquatics facility and the City won't either. Who pays? That tidbit is interesting too. The "plan" is to have residents help fund the aquatics facility or wait years for the City to obtain another grant. Now, isn't that a kick in the pants?
Now, if that isn't painful enough to hear, how does it feel to find out that there is a tiny asterisk denoting "hazardous material mitigation" that is currently unfunded. Yep, the cost is likely to go up once demolition and grading begin.
A swimming pool should have been included in the City's infrastructure decades ago. So, I'm betting that residents, upon hearing that they will have to pony up money for a pool while the Council orders the destruction of one, will cause outrage throughout the community. What do you think?
Speaking of costs, it would be less expensive if the murals were knocked down and the aquatics facility were left incomplete, which is what both the Parks and Recreation Department and the Save Ortega Park Arts Committee (SOPAC) is advocating. Knowing this, I have to question the sudden appearance of SOPAC when they crashed the April 24th Mural Workshop at Ortega Park where they advocated for the destruction of the murals in accordance with the Ortega Park Master Plan.
Stranger still, is that some SOPAC members apparently received a stipend from the City to show up at the workshop. Makes one wonder about who is pulling the strings behind the scenes especially when it looks like a City employee is behind all of this...
Right now, it appears that the City Council is damned if it approves the current plan and damned if it doesn't.
Don't you think it would look bad politically to move forward with the current plan? I do and I'm thinking the dystopian scenario I described earlier of this week of residents calling for protests, resignations and then chaining themselves to the murals to save them can quickly become a reality.
There is a short time frame in which the City Council can take action to avert the looming PR crisis. Here are my recommendations to the Council to avoid one:
First, order a Special Meeting of the City Council or add this item to Tuesday's agenda in order to direct the Parks and Recreation Department to: Hold the necessary workshops to re-design the Ortega Park Master Plan in order to meet grant deadlines while leaving the murals in place, ensuring that residents have a natural grass soccer field, and including an aquatic facility that meets industry standards.
Second, order the Police and Fire Department and City Administrator to provide an estimate of the amount of funds the City spends annually providing services for alcohol related crimes. – It is now time to recover the costs the City spends annually to police the customers of those who profit from alcohol related sales.
Why am I recommending this? The City needs to immediately fill the gap in funding in order to complete the new Ortega Park Master Plan in one phase. In order to do this, it needs to move forward with an alcohol ordinance and tax, if necessary, to recover the funds it spends annually on alcohol related calls for service. Why? It is currently estimated that this is 1/3 of the SBPD’s budget. - That's over $13,000,000 last year for the SBPD and doesn’t include the Fire Department.
So, with few actions and strategic decisions the City Council could reallocate what it spends annually to operate the SBPD back into community, recover the costs of policing the problems that business profiting from alcohol create which is equitable, and permanently change the way a large portion of the City's budget is used in order to fund future projects. Doesn't spending money on apprentice programs, homeless, health and wellness, affordable housing and other needed programs and projects sound grand to you?
This is an urgent matter to address and time is running out. I urge you to take or urge immediate action.
If after reading my letter addressed to the City Council you find yourself concerned about the Ortega Park Master Plan please take the time to send a quick email asking the City Council to take action on one, or both, recommendations I mentioned. Send your email to: SBCityCouncil@SantaBarbaraCA.Gov, Clerk@ SantaBarbaraCA.Gov
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