The Goleta City Council just can’t say no to kids, especially when those kids outnumber them 25 to one and are skilled in the use of baseball bats.
The council approved a motion at its meeting Monday to grant $400,000 to the “Fields Forever” campaign. The campaign hopes to purchase Girsh Park and permanently designate it as a public outdoor recreation area. With the grant from the city council, the campaign is only $200,000 away from reaching its $4 million goal.
The 13 acres of Girsh Park, located behind the Costco shopping center, are owned by the nonprofit Girsh Park Foundation and were donated by Mark Linehan. The adjacent 12 acres – which currently house baseball fields – are being sold for $4 million, with the condition that they continue to be used for public recreation and are purchased by the May 1 deadline.
The funds from the city will come from mandatory park fees that developer Michael Towbes offered to pay 18 months early – but only if the money would be guaranteed for the ballpark. Four hundred thousand dollars of his total $600,000 fee is now designated to the campaign. The council said the other $200,000 from Towbes will be used for other city park projects.
Only Mayor Margaret Connell voted against the grant because she said the approved amount was not enough, and that the council should designate the entire $600,000 from Towbes’ park fees.
The Dos Pueblos Little League, which is among the groups with an interest in the park, showed its support by bringing nearly 100 children in full baseball uniform who sat on the floor in front of the council’s table.
“We don’t get crowds like this unless we’re discussing moratoriums,” said council member Jack Hawxhurst.
The meeting attendees interjected and applauded frequently to show support of granting all of the $600,000 available specifically for Goleta parks projects.
Council member Jean Blois said not allocating the entire $600,000 for Girsh Park would be “criminal.”
But council member Cynthia Brock said donating all the funds would infringe on other park projects.
“We’re being pushed to approve this project at the expense of other projects which are just as deserving of the money,” Brock said. “I feel more comfortable only committing to $400,000 until we can evaluate other projects.
The 15 attendees who addressed the council about Girsh Park asked the council to vote for the motion. Several even suggested that they couldn’t vote against it “while looking in the faces” of the many young Goleta residents in attendance.
Girsh Park Foundation President Derek Weston said the council’s decision was precedent setting.
“This is the first real challenge the city has faced,” he said. “People really care about this and their presence here speaks volumes.