Vera Cruz Park on Santa Barbara’s Eastside is now the permanent home to the Santa Barbara Trapeze Co.
The Parks and Recreation Commission on Wednesday unanimously supported a one-year contract, with an option for up to three years.
About 60% of the park will be occupied by the trapeze company and the rest will be open space.
The city made a dramatic turn in how it manages the park by going into business with the trapeze company. The park, which used to have a playground, earned the nickname “needle park” because drug use and loitering regularly took place.
In 2018, attorney Barry Cappello sent a letter to the city demanding a public hearing to address the issue. He was representing a family whose 4-year-old boy was pricked by a discarded hypodermic needle that he found on the park’s play structure. The child had to undergo a series of drug treatments to prevent HIV and hepatitis, and the incident sparked local outrage.
Parks & Recreation Director Jill Zachary responded by clearing the playground and seeking suitors for the site to disrupt the activity.
The Santa Barbara Trapeze Co. had set up at the Earl Warren Showgrounds for years, but moved to near downtown to be closer to people and passersby.
The park is fenced off, but people are supposed to be able to enter the fence through an unlocked door during business hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Monday at 11 a.m., the park was closed and locked and there were no trapeze activities.
The trapeze company has been using the space on a short-term contract already and won favor with the city by providing scholarships. In the past 10 months, the company served 279 youth summer camp participants and 700 youths and adults.
It also pays the city a portion of its revenue — about $9,765 in net revenue so far, and another $17,503 for contracted landscape maintenance, which enabled the Parks Division to reallocate staff resources to other city parks. The Santa Barbara Trapeze Co. was the only business to respond to the city’s request for proposals.
“For the city, it looks like a win-win,” Commissioner Sebastian Aldana said. “Hopefully it will be a success. It looks like it will be. It looks like a good plan.”
Commissioner Beebe Longstreet said that in the past there were many efforts to get that park cleaned up, and “it wasn’t happening.”
“I am so glad to see this area returned for positive use to the public,” she said.
Longstreet addressed the concerns that the city was “privatizing” a city park by leasing it to a private company. She said the parks and recreation department has shrunk and that the city will likely do more to partner with private companies to provide services, particularly camps.
At Vera Cruz Park, Longstreet said the trapeze equipment and fencing around the park make the park safer.
“It’s always good to see something new work,” Longstreet said. “I don’t think we should be afraid to try this in the future.”
Tree to Stay
The commission also voted 5-0 to deny a property owner’s request to take down a Mexican fan palm tree in front of his building on city property at De la Guerra Plaza.
The tree, at 624 East de la Guerra Plaza, is at the corner of Storke Plaza. The stump of the tree rests against the side of a building, owned by Washington resident John Chaffee.
In his application to the city, he wrote: “There is a palm tree in Storke Placita at the corner of our building and is growing around or possibly into the building corner, threatening the structure of the building.”
The city’s urban forest superintendent, Nathan Slack, found no proof, however, that the tree was damaging the building. Before the Parks and Recreation Commission’s meeting, the street tree advisory committee also had recommended denial of the request to remove the tree.
Chaffee also had provided a letter from a structural engineer suggesting that the tree should be removed.
“There’s always going to be a fundamental divide between the structural engineer and the plant expert, whether there really is a problem or not,” Slack said.
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.