After over a decade of negotiations, protests and petitions, approximately 40 people came together yesterday to celebrate the official opening and dedication of Capps Park.

Capps Park, which is located at 6709 Del Playa Dr. and was formerly known as Claire’s Park, was officially dedicated yesterday after 11 years of negotiations between county officials, the property’s former owners and local residents. The park is named for former UCSB professor and Isla Vista resident Walter Capps, who served as congressman for the 23rd District of California before his death in 1997. The ceremony featured speakers including 23rd District Representative Lois Capps, 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone and UCSB religious studies professor Richard Hecht, as well as the unveiling of landscaping plans for the park.

Firestone said the county worked with local groups, such as the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District and the Isla Vista chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, to purchase parcels of the land from private owners and ensure that the entire property could be turned into a public park.

“The process started years ago,” Firestone said. “There has been a huge effort on the part of many people and groups to make this a reality.”

IVRPD Director Eric Cummings, secretary for I.V. Surfrider, said he believes that local residents are largely responsible for convincing Firestone and other county officials to create Capps Park. Cummings, a fourth-year English major, helped circulate a petition last year asking the county supervisors to purchase the privately-owned parcels of Capps Park.

“The important thing was to get enough public support to allow Supervisor Firestone to convince the other supervisors that the park ought to become a public space,” Cummings said. “We got 7,000 petitioners from Isla Vista to help to lobby the board of supervisors. Isla Vista really came together to help make today a reality.”

Lois Capps, who took her late husband’s place representing Santa Barbara in Congress, said she attended the ceremony to commemorate the life of Walter Capps. She said she thinks that dedicating the park is an appropriate way to pay tribute to her husband.

“I couldn’t pick a better spot to remember Walter,” Capps said. “Walter loved to bring the world into the classroom and the classroom into the world. This park is a fitting tribute to Walter’s legacy.”

Several of Walter Capps’s former colleagues and friends attended the event, including Hecht. Hecht, who works at the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life at UCSB, said he feels that Walter Capps is partially responsible for the way the humanities and social sciences are taught at the school.
“He had an instrumental role in furthering my career,” Hecht said. “He was the second member of the religious faculty here at UCSB. He liked to bring aspects of humanities and social science into the study of religion, which has played an important role in shaping the faculty as it is today.”

Hecht said he thinks his former mentor would be proud of the park and what it represents.

“The park overlooks the Pacific Ocean, which has always been a symbol of the future for Americans,” Hecht said. “Walter, while a very traditional scholar, always tried to look to the future in his work.”

Cummings said he thinks Walter Capps would also have been proud of the way the community came together to secure the park’s future as an open space.

“The struggle to get this park under public ownership is exactly the type of campus and community integration that Walter Capps strongly believed in,” Cummings said. “I can’t think of a better person to remember here.”