The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved entering into a memorandum of understanding with the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation as part of the Dwight Murphy Field renovation project.
Earlier this year, the council reviewed the proposed master plan for Dwight Murphy Field and authorized the Parks and Recreation Department to develop an agreement with the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation to advance the proposed park improvements.
The foundation, a local nonprofit that helps families with special needs, committed to funding a portion of the design and construction costs to redevelop the field, with a specific focus on an inclusive playground, said Jill Zachary, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
The master plan includes such improvements as an artificial turf multi-sport field, a youth baseball diamond, an outdoor fitness area and restroom. The inclusive playground will allow equal access for children and caregivers and is proposed at the eastern corner of the park.
“The playground is envisioned to be Santa Barbara’s first inclusive play area and would attract both visitors and residents from the wider tricounty area,” Ms. Zachary said.
The foundation has proposed several methods to raise funds for the project, including events, social media promotions, merchandise sales and corporate sponsorships. The foundation is also seeking to recognize donors through the naming of the playground and are seeking to develop an endowment, Ms. Zachary said.
“Playgrounds don’t last forever, project facilities don’t last forever, and we’re always trying to include concepts of when and how we will replace them when necessary,” she said.
The City Council has approved $250,000 within the fiscal year 2019-20 budget toward the preliminary design. The foundation has committed to matching those funds, Ms. Zachary said.
In addition, the foundation has committed $4 to $5 million to the project, which as outlined could cost as much as $14 million, according to a staff report.
The design and development approval process could be completed by the end of 2021, with the final building permits receiving approval in 2022. Construction could begin as early as 2022, Ms. Zachary said.
The project received support from the council as well as members of the public.
“This is an opportunity for my grandchildren to play in an area where they can look beyond someone’s differences and experience the joy together,” said Beebee Longstreet, who sits on the city’s Parks Commission.
“I’m very excited about this,” said Councilman Jason Dominguez. “All of District 1 is excited about this.
“I’m going to wholeheartedly support this and keep pushing for this in our budgets and our agendas.”
In other business Tuesday, the council received an update on Southern California Edison’s wildfire mitigation plan and grid resiliency.
Earlier this year, Edison filed a wildfire mitigation plan with the California Public Utilities Commission that addresses fire ignitions caused by utility infrastructure. The plan also looks to fortify the company’s electrical system against the increasing impacts of wildfires.
About 25 percent of SCE’s service area is located within high fire-risk areas. The company’s approach includes enhanced inspections of all of its overhead power lines and equipment and hardening infrastructure, said Rondi Guthrie, government relations manager for SCE.
The system hardening includes installation of insulated wires, or covered conductors. To date, crews have installed 183 miles of covered conductor in the highest risk areas, with the goal of having 500 miles installed by 2025, Ms. Guthrie said.
In addition, crews have installed more than 7,500 fast-acting fuses onto SCE’s system and updated more than 1,500 protective devices that speed the activation of the fuse device to reduce the potential ignition energy, she said.
SCE officials have inspected every piece of overhead equipment located in high fire areas within Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and are now looking to remediate that equipment, she said.
Ms. Guthrie mentioned there may be benefits to having underground equipment, but there are challenges such as environmental impacts and costs.
The covered conductor installation costs about $430,000 per mile, while undergrounding costs an estimated $3 million per mile, she said.
The company has installed 200 weather stations throughout its coverage area, with the goal of 850 by the end of 2020. In addition, SCE has installed 100 high-definition cameras on towers located within high fire-risk areas, with the goal of installing 160 through 2020, Ms. Guthrie said.
Of the estimated 38 circuits that serve the city, 17 are located within high fire-risk areas and could be shut down during dangerous fire conditions, Guthrie said.
“We’re not looking at this like ‘We have to shut the city of Santa Barbara down,'” she said, adding that there will be someone on the ground monitoring the circuit and portions of the city may not be impacted.
“My feedback would be, Ms. Guthrie, to please do everything you can to fortify your system so don’t have to turn off the power. … I know you’re in business, but if you could look out for our people and our businesses first we would be grateful to have the power on,” said Mayor Cathy Murillo. “Spend whatever you need to spend to fortify that system.
“We’re praying for favorable weather conditions and that we don’t go through what we’ve been going through,” Ms. Murillo added.
Also Tuesday, the council formally approved a $202,100 contract for People Assisting the Homeless. A proposed agreement with Santa Barbara Alliance for Community Transformation for regional coordination for homeless assistance was continued from Tuesday’s agenda.