A quick check of cities in the tri-counties, both large and small, shows that almost all have some form of public parks and recreation review process. For most, it is a commission of local citizens. For a few, it is an independent parks and recreation district. An exception is the City of Goleta.
This stems in part from its history. Goleta’s revenues were determined by the cost of services provided to the city by the county before incorporation. Since the county did not provide recreation programs, no funds for this purpose were transferred to the new city. Revenues cover the basic costs for public safety, road and park maintenance, land use planning and overall administration.
Goleta is liberally endowed with some wonderful parks. Two major areas of open space, the Sperling Preserve at the Ellwood Mesa and Lake Los Carneros at Rancho La Patera, are rich resources for passive recreation — jogging, walking, biking, horseback riding, bird watching and other opportunities for the quiet enjoyment of nature. There is access to the beach from Ellwood Mesa and at Haskell’s Beach. Stow Grove Park, with its beautiful redwood trees, has both an active play area and picnic facilities. In addition, there are numerous neighborhood parks with playground equipment throughout the city.
While there are a variety of recreation programs in the city, they are provided primarily by nonprofit organizations. Girsh Park is the site of Little League baseball and soccer and offers basketball courts and picnic areas. A profusion of different programs for seniors and young people is offered at the Goleta Valley Community Center. These are under the jurisdiction of a nonprofit board. (The center will come under city jurisdiction in 2013). The Boys & Girls Club and Girls Inc. also have after-school and summer programs for young people, and there are summer swim classes at the Dos Pueblos High School pool. There is an active girls softball league. And within a year or two, if all goes well, there will be an ice rink adjacent to Girsh Park.
Popular community events at the Stow House include a Fourth of July open house, Holiday at the Ranch and Music at the Ranch put on by the Goleta Valley Historical Society. The South Coast Railroad Museum offers several fun events, including the Easter Bunny Express and the candy cane train. Fourth of July fireworks by the Goleta Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce’s California Lemon Festival in Goleta are also held at Girsh Park. This is a pretty rich menu of activities, and the city provides some financial support to many of them.
What is missing is an umbrella, not to take over these programs — we are incredibly indebted to the work of these nonprofit organizations — but to clearly identify where there are gaps and needs still to be met. Kids camps in the parks in the summer or at spring break might be a popular addition. There could also be music and art lessons and a variety of other after-school and summertime programs.
Parks are important gathering places for families and groups, and recreation programs that connect people around mutually interesting activities. Together they bind the community together and help build the character of a city.
A good example of a statement of purpose for a parks and recreation commission comes from the City of Ojai: “The commission reflects the desires of the community to care for and develop its parks and recreation facilities and is charged to interface with citizens and city leaders to develop recreation programs and activities and review policies and plans for parks and public areas.”
A Goleta parks commission of community members would provide eyes and ears across the city and provide public oversight of these invaluable assets. The recreation piece might have to come later, given the current economic state of the city. But things are beginning to turn around, and certainly a survey and discussion of possibilities could be undertaken.
We have an excellent opportunity to get started with the new park off Kellogg Avenue in Old Town. We are looking forward to active engagement of the Old Town community in the design and use of this site. This could serve as a model for a future commission.
The City of Santa Barbara created a parks commission in 1902 and a recreation commission in 1929. Granted, Goleta is not quite 10 years old, but 2012 is none too soon to consider forming a Goleta Parks and Recreation Commission.
— Margaret Connell is serving her second term as mayor of Goleta.