One board member has resigned in protest because of it and many community members are glad to have it, but a recent decision in the Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District could take away its $1-million grant for I.V. development.
At its June 15 meeting, IVRPD members voted three to two to keep 32 plots of community gardens in their current location at Estero Park, and cancel a section of the park’s master plan, which calls for a soccer field to take their place.
The Estero Park Master Plan also includes a community center, a teen center, basketball courts, a skate park and a library.
The majority of the board voted to remove the soccer field in response to complaints from the gardeners who rent out the plots from the IVRPD. However, by taking out the field from plans, the district stands to lose a $1-million grant awarded last fall by the California State Parks Dept.
The grant would have paid for the relocation of the community gardens to Sueno Orchard, the removal of existing utility lines, the relocation of buildings around the field’s site and to rip up the road where the soccer field will be located.
“It was the only money that we actually had to start the community center project and it was going to pay for the moving of the community gardens,” said board member Logan Green.
As of Monday afternoon, IVRPD General Manager Dale Sumersille said she was still waiting for an answer from the California State Parks Dept. as to whether the IVRPD would be able to keep the grant, but use it for a different project. She said the board will revisit the issue and the motion at its meeting on July 6.
Green, who along with board member Eric Cummings voted against the motion, said the presence of several community gardeners swayed the board’s vote. He said the gardeners did not want their plants and crops moved across the way to Sueno Orchard, which they say has overgrown trees and plants.
“There were a handful of neighborhood activists — we’re talking long-term I.V. residents that lived right near Estero Park — who didn’t like the idea of the activity generated by a soccer field,” Green said. “A few of them used the garden and didn’t like the idea of moving the soil across the street.”
“I respect their opinion, but I believe it represents the vast minority of people in Isla Vista… the 40- to 50-year-old white, 30-year I.V. resident — whereas I believe that the majority of the student population and the majority of the Latino population would enjoy a soccer field.”
Green said he had originally expected the meeting to be a four-to-one vote, the one dissenting opinion of which would have been board member Dianne Conn, who Green said has always been against the soccer field.
“I was shocked when [board members] Brian and Kelly decided it wasn’t worth moving the community gardens. … I found it hard to believe,” Green said. “I worked with them for a long time. … It came out of the blue.”
Although he was planning to resign within the next few months anyway, Green said he resigned after the meeting because of the frustration he felt toward the situation.
However, IVRPD Director Kelly Burns said it was important to listen to all community concerns and respond with a satisfactory solution.
“How can you have a community center without community support?” Burns said.
Burns also said that the board would need to discuss the issue more in depth before making any further decision, and would do just that at their next meeting. She said board members did not have all the necessary information at the time, such as more history of the grant and its nature. They will, however, for the July 6 meeting, she said.
Plans for a new soccer field in I.V. have been in the works for several years now. The field would help the county decrease the gap between needed and actual recreation fields: Former IVRPD General Manager Derek Johnson said in September that southern Santa Barbara has a 34-field shortage.
Along with I.V. residents, teams from the American Youth Soccer Organization – commonly known as AYSO – could use the fields for games. Representatives from AYSO wrote a letter of support to the California State Parks Dept. when IVRPD applied for the $1-million grant.
Although the possibility has been discussed, IVRPD Operations Manager Jeff Yolles said if the soccer field were not put in the planned location, it could not be placed anywhere else. Some areas of Estero Park have protected wetlands, while others have oak trees that the IVRPD does not wish to remove. Yolles said design firm MDA Johnson Favaro came to the same conclusion about moving the field to a different location.
Yolles also said the field would not fit or be able to go in any other I.V. park.
While it would take “quite a bit of work,” Yolles said moving the gardens could be done without harming the plants. Some of the gardeners have complained about existing plants and soil conditions in Sueno Orchard, but he said these problems could be resolved to satisfactory conditions.
“Given enough time and money, we could get it to be a lovely spot,” Yolles said.
Green said he is disappointed in the board’s decision, but he said it is not entirely unexpected. Green will be replaced by an appointee within the next month or so, and his position will be up for grabs during the election in November.
“It’s a mess,” Green said. “Just from what I’ve seen, nothing changes in I.V. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of people spinning the wheels and a lot of ideas, and I haven’t seen a thing change.”