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Outdated neighborhood park on South Coast gets new life with million dollar makeover

Santa Barbara's Eastside Neighborhood Park gets new high-tech kids play area, walking trail, exercise area for adults, and new turf.

More than two dozen kids are playing on a brand new obstacle course in a renovated Santa Barbara park.

Ask six-year-old Cassie Cassandra Gutierrez about what she thinks about the improved Eastside Neighborhood Park, and you get a simple answer.

"Everything!" she exclaimed.

The two acre park is off of Soledad Street, on Santa Barbara’s Eastside. It’s nestled in the middle of a neighborhood, surrounded by homes on three sides and Frank Elementary School on the fourth. Residents are excited about the park’s million dollar makeover.

"People began to stop coming here, because they were a little bit afraid of the environment. But, it's very different now, " said Frank Vanales, who is a longtime neighborhood resident. "This is incredible. I am really happy to see this."

The City of Santa Barbara wanted to renovate the park for some time, but money was a big issue.

"We started this project in the fall of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic, " said Jill Zachary, who is the City of Santa Barbara’s Parks and Recreation Director. "Really, it was in response to a lot of the safety concerns that we were having here...misuse concerns...and realizing we hadn't reinvested in this park in a really long time."

She said they wanted to create something the neighborhood wanted. So, they did surveys and workshops to involve residents in the process.

"We added a playground. We replaced a little playground in the corner, and we added a playground for 5-12 year olds. We created a walking path for people where they could use scooters, and wheelchairs, and then we added fitness equipment adjacent to the community garden so adults could work out while their kids are here." There's also other improvements like new turf.

Franklin Elementary School. Principal Casie Kilgore says she thinks it will encourage kids, and families to be more active outdoors.

"Kids can come with their grandparents, they can walk their dogs, and it's really given them an extension of their home in the afternoons and evenings to get outside and be active" said Kilgore.

The project cost around a million dollars, with about half of the funding coming from federal community block grants. The city filled in the rest.

Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rouse said he’s proud the city was able to transform the park on a very limited budget. Instead of hiring consultants to do planning and design work, staff members pitched in to do the work internally.

"It's fabulous, especially when you see kids running around, that's exactly why we did it," said the Mayor. "We had to squeeze the nickel a little harder to do projects like this, but when you look around, what an enhancement for the neighborhood."

But, the best endorsement from the kids who are here, who say they love the renovated park, and its play areas. "I like everything...I like those things you can climb on," said one of the kids, who then dashes back to play with her friends.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.