Friday, October 9 , 2015, 4:47 am | Fair 66º

Pocket Park for Young Children Planned for Santa Barbara’s Ortega and Bath Streets

Squeezed into tiny space adjacent to Ortega Street Bridge, playground equipment will be targeted at kids 2-5

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

A vacant lot in Santa Barbara’s west downtown neighborhood will soon be the site of a play place for young children and families, thanks to a unanimous decision from Parks & Recreation commissioners last week.

The pocket park is located at Ortega and Bath streets and is bordered by Mission Creek and the newly replaced Ortega Street Bridge. The commission decided to put in playground equipment aimed at children ages 2 to 5, and potentially several benches, trash cans and new landscaping.

A tall chain-link fence currently surrounds the parcel, which was acquired by the city’s redevelopment agency, according to Jill Zachary, assistant parks and recreation director.

Three houses on the lot were demolished for the Ortega Bridge that was replaced in 2012, and the remaining land was zoned for parks, she said.

When the RDA was dissolved, revenue from that source was placed on hiatus but the funding is now available, Zachary said.

With the setbacks needed from the creek, a home on the south side of the park and streets on the other sides, the space to put in playground equipment is tiny.

“It’s a very small parcel,” Zachary said. “The community in this neighborhood has been promised some sort of park here ... But we are constrained by the fact that it isn’t a very big space.”

Staff developed three potential options for the location, including a playground that focused on 2- to 5-year-old children, a site with adult fitness equipment or passive open space.

None of the concepts included any turf and all have minimal irrigation, she said.

The city held a neighborhood meeting earlier this month and about 30 people showed up, along with numerous children.

The entrance to the park would be on Ortega Street, and Zachary said the department will be talking to the city’s transportation department about installing stop signs on Bath Street to give children and families a chance to cross the one-way street.

The project will need to be reviewed by the Architectural Board of Review, but she said construction could begin in September.

The cost of design and construction of the project will amount to about $250,000, she said.

A handful of residents showed up to speak at Wednesday’s commission meeting. Although most expressed support for the park and for a design that would accommodate young children, they also voiced concern about the park as a draw for people who might loiter in the area.

Commissioner Chris Casebeer endorsed the children’s park and suggested that neighborhood children should be involved in some sort of permanent public art display that would include their names and artwork.

He said the art would create a sense of ownership “that this is their park and they don’t want people to mess with it.”

Casebeer also said the park should maintain open vision so people couldn’t hide behind trees.

“It’s got to be open to the street,” he said.

Installing signage for young children that explains the creek habitat and how to preserve it also is important, several commissioners and neighbors said.

Commissioner Nicolas Ferrara said he hoped that police and park rangers would increase patrols so people are not sleeping or drinking in the park.

Commissioner Beebe Longstreet noted that a pocket park in her Westside neighborhood, Parque de Los Niños, was also constrained for space and is well-used by local families.

“It gives the neighborhood a focus and a focal point,” she said, adding that many small children live in the neighborhood but lack outdoor space to play.

“We don’t get to have a new park very often and we should just take a moment to appreciate that this is happening,” she said after the commission’s vote in favor of the park.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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