Santa Barbara County Parks Division Assistant Director Jeff Lindgren.
Santa Barbara County Parks Division Assistant Director Jeff Lindgren speaks about the Recreation Master Plan and environmental review that would be part of the plan's development during Wednesday's workshop. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)

Parks, trails, sports fields and other types of recreation were the main topic of discussion during the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission’s workshop Wednesday, when the county’s Community Services Department and the Planning & Development Department presented their progress in creating a Recreation Master Plan.

The master plan puts together an inventory of existing and planned parks, trails and other recreational facilities, identifies recreation needs and measures to improve recreational planning.

“Recreation is really important for creating community sustainability,” said Jeff Lindgren, assistant director of the county’s Parks Division. “We saw this during the pandemic when the explosion in the use of public trails just really was off the charts. … People were using access to the outdoors and recreation facilities as a way to clear their heads and keep their mental health during the pandemic. That was really important for our communities.”

In public outreach for the Recreation Master Plan, strong support was identified for new and improved parks and trails.

The public outreach revealed that the top 10 recreation needs were sports fields and courts, neighborhood parks in underserved areas, aquatic centers/pool and splash pads, hiking trails, equestrian trails and facilities, mountain bike/BMX trails and track parks, coastal access in the North County, campgrounds, picnic and outdoor gathering areas, and community centers and gyms.

A countywide analysis also showed that more than half of park and open space acreage is on the South Coast, as well as 90% of beach parks and coastal access points.

“I urge you to prioritize ensuring that everyone, regardless of their background or socioeconomic status, can enjoy the benefits of recreation,” public commenter Emilie Difede said. “These spaces are a crucial component of public health, and the policies you enact today can help bring sports and recreation facilities to communities that have been underserved in the past.”

Some of the next steps in further development of the Recreation Master Plan following the current needs assessment phase include creating a vision for the future of the county’s recreation, putting together a programmatic environmental impact report, and making amendments and changes to current zoning and comprehensive plan policies to meet the recreation needs.

Part of the master plan that was heavily discussed in Wednesday’s meeting is a proposed recreation benefit program that would incentivize incorporating public recreation projects as part of private projects.

According to the staff presentation for the master plan, the program would provide incentives for applicants of eligible private recreation projects, housing projects and other private projects that substantially contribute to public recreation projects.

Santa Barbara County Planning Commissioners, from left, Vincent Martinez, Laura Bridley and John Parke.
Santa Barbara County Planning Commissioners, from left, Vincent Martinez, Laura Bridley and John Parke listen and ask questions as county staff discusses the new Recreation Master Plan during Wednesday’s workshop. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)

Jeff Wilson, assistant director of the Planning & Development Department, said the program is still conceptual, but some possible incentives could include downshifted or simplified permit types, increased intensity of use, permitting additional uses that wouldn’t otherwise be allowed, waiver or modification of development standards, and waiver or reduction of parks fees.

Another incentive for eligible commercial projects could include employee housing.

County staff said they’re hoping that the incentive program would encourage and generate more public recreation.

More information and updates on the county’s Recreation Master Plan is available on the project’s website here, as well as in the staff presentation for Wednesday’s meeting. 

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission has scheduled another workshop for Sept. 27 to hear more public comments.