The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday will discuss amending the city’s Municipal Code pertaining to park closing times, use of playgrounds and aquatic facilities, use of portable grills and stoves and off-leash dog areas in city parks.
“The intent of the amendments is to improve park management and maintenance, enhance park safety, and support productive community use of City Parks and recreational facilities,” reads the staff report prepared by the city Parks and Recreation Department and City Attorney’s Office.
Among the proposals is to establish consistent park and recreation hours of sunrise to sunset, as set by the National Weather Service.
The parks department also is requesting the city define designated playground areas and aquatic facilities for exclusive use by children, provide guidelines that allow portable barbecues or grills and camp stoves in defined picnic areas, and adding a new off-leash area at MacKenzie Park.
“If the proposed amendments are adopted, the Department will include the updates in the park-wide signage project, and conduct a comprehensive community outreach campaign,” the staff report reads.
Funds for the first phase of the sign project include $120,000 in the parks department’s fiscal year 2019-20 capital program and approximately $90,000 from a grant from the California Department of Justice Tobacco Law Enforcement Grant Program.
The second phase would address all remaining parks and facilities and is estimated to cost $200,000. Funding has yet to be secured and temporary signs and other outreach efforts will be implemented, officials said.
Several recent reports to the Parks and Recreation Commission, dating back to December 2016, have outlined various issues and impacts associated with park misuse, vandalism and overnight occupancy.
“Impacts included the public perception and experience with unsafe park conditions, lost revenue due to declined program participation and facility rentals, impacts to department staff, and increased costs for clean-ups and repairs,” the staff report states. “Since 2017, these impacts have grown, along with reduced revenue from facility rentals and program participation, as community members and visitors avoid recreation areas as a result of encampments and aggressive behavior.”
The report states that portable grills and camp stoves are “commonly and heavily” used throughout the park system and the Municipal Code does not outline proper guidelines for safe usage. Patrons commonly dispose of smoldering coals in trash cans or on the ground, which damages the containers and turf, increases safety concerns for users and requires excessive maintenance.
There is also an increased use of park playgrounds by adults who are not accompanied by children. The proposed designation would “enhance safety for children and limit loitering in areas designated for minors,” according to the report.
Currently, 30 parks are open from sunrise to 10 p.m. and 19 facilities are open from sunrise to a half-hour after sunset. The variation in park hours “creates confusion for park users, makes enforcement more difficult for the Santa Barbara Police Department, and strains park resources,” the report states, adding that longer park hours – particularly after sunset – increase park misuse and contribute to illegal activities.
Skofield Park, Franceschi Park and Hilda McIntyre Ray Park would continue to open at 8 a.m. daily under the proposal, according to the staff report.
With the designation of children’s playgrounds and aquatic facilities, the Parks and Recreation director would have the authority to designate areas and equipment in any city park, aquatic park or beach as a playground area for use by children – defined as a child 12 or younger. Children older than 12 but younger than 18 would not be prohibited from being present at the facility, officials said.
The proposed guidelines for portable barbecues, grills or camp stoves would require them to be stand-alone, enclosed, self-contained units that are at least 6 inches off the surface. They would be prohibited in areas where they would pose a safety risk or potential conflict with other park uses.
The off-leash dog area at MacKenzie Park opened June 24. It includes a half-acre fenced area within the park, equipped with two separate fenced enclosures to separate large dogs from smaller or special needs dogs. The off-leash area needs to be added to the list of acceptable locations.
Tuesday’s council meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St.