SB Planning Commission approves proposal for Ortega Park’s 18 murals
Ortega Park is closer to a $15 million refresh after the Santa Barbara Planning Commission approved a master plan.
City staff presented a plan for the 18 murals currently beautifying the park.
The artwork has been the centerpiece of community debate. The murals adorn structurally deficient buildings, but community members want to preserve Chumash, Chicano and Mexican imagery.
The project’s planners identified five murals that have maintained their integrity and can be relocated during construction: Coatalicue, Campesinos, Niños del Maiz,
Deportes and Cosmic Unity.
Three murals with aquatic themes are proposed to be repainted near the pool by the original artist or an artist familiar with their work: Blue Whale, Dolphins and Underwater Atlantes/Toltecas.
Local artists will re-envision four murals with the permission of the original artist: Rainbow Quetzal, Codex Cospi, Aztec Chumash Solstice, and La Playa.
The remaining six murals will be documented and published digitally or in a book. There is room for eight new murals to be added.
Parks and Recreation will appoint a committee of stakeholders to advise the implementation.
The presentation and discussion of the agenda item lasted around four hours as commissioners narrowed in on portions of their 1,128-page staff report.
An item out of the commissioners’ purview, but still brought discussion, was the project’s fencing.
Plans have a six-foot-tall fence drawn around almost the entirety of the park, apart from sidewalks and empty grass areas on the perimeter. The fence was designed similar to Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens’, only one foot higher.
The gates will close overnight, shutting after sunset.
Commissioner Roxana Bonderson and Vice Chair Gabriel Escobedo questioned if it would make neighbors feel unwelcome in their hometown park.
“In the last year, we’ve had a really important conversation about preserving Chicano and Chumash art and caring and honoring that into the future and providing a space for people who don’t always feel like it’s a safe space for them,” Vice Chair Escobedo said. “Ortega Park has been one of those spaces where it’s been safe for many families in the neighborhood.”
Planner Justin Van Mullem said it was integral to gate the artificial turf field and aquatics area, and planners thought it would be a helpful safety feature to fence in the remaining fourth of the park.
Lt. Kenny Kushner from the Santa Barbara Police Department explained that the fencing would be helpful to law enforcement. He said Ortega Park experiences “more than the average amount of misuse.”
Mr. Mullem noted that survey respondents asked for safety features, such as lighting, during community outreach.
Another community preference is a skate park. Commissioners asked about the noise of this feature (another aspect of the park out of their jurisdiction), but Mr. Mullem calmed concerns.
The skate park is below grade, or dug underground instead of lofted on wooden structures. Planners specified hand-troweled concrete for minimal noise.
The skating will be located in the busiest corner, where traffic noise is likely to be more upsetting, he said.
The city has secured $1 million in grant funding, and a $8.6 million grant is pending. If that grant is secured this year, the project is expected to be completed in June 2024.
The project will be installed in phases, so residents will be able to enjoy portions of the park at a time.
The next step for the project’s planners is design and final approval from the Architectural Board of Review. Architectural renderings and more project details are at santabarbaraca.gov/gov/depts/parksrec/keyinitiatives/currentprojs/ortegaparkproject.asp.