Tuesday, April 13, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 6

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 28th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 48 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 48

County leading regional effort to improve parks, outdoor resources


Residents in Santa Barbara County will soon have the chance to weigh in on future plans for new outdoor recreation projects in the area.

Santa Barbara County and other stakeholders are developing an outdoor recreation master plan to identify park needs throughout the county.

For the first time ever, the county and local cities are working on a countywide recreation master plan that will identify what resources are missing throughout the county and how jurisdictions can fill those gaps. The goal of this effort is to establish a framework that will assist the county and cities as they apply for millions of dollars in grant funding the state will make available over the next few years.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to get money for parks and recreation in cities and the county,” county Parks Superintendent Jeff Lindgren said.

In June 2018, California voters approved a $4 billion bond referendum called Proposition 68 that funds, among other projects, park improvements. The funding is available for local jurisdictions to secure through different programs and rounds of grant funding. Last year, the state accepted applications for nearly $255 million in funding, which hasn’t yet been awarded.

Lindgren said developing this recreation master plan could make cities and the county more competitive when attempting to secure future funding because this process will cover much of the logistical and environmental planning that grant applications usually require. 

“Every grant program is a little bit different,” Lindgren said. “But in general, they are looking to fund a project to get it to construction. So as many of the pre-design, environmental clearance, and permitting aspects you can out of the way in advance, the more competitive your project will be.”

After a summit with various stakeholders in June 2019, the planning process kicked off with a steering committee meeting in November. Aside from Lindgren—and a few others with the county—this committee includes representatives from most cities in the county, the California State Parks, nonprofits, and the contractor hired to assist with the plan.

Santa Barbara County Trails Council Executive Director Mark Wilkinson serves on the steering committee. He said that through this process, the committee will have the opportunity to look at potential projects in North County, which has fewer recreational opportunities than South County.

Stay tuned
Find out how to give input on the county’s recreation master plan at countyofsb.org/parks/recmasterplan.sbc.

“If you look at recreation around the county, it’s lopsided,” Wilkinson said.

During the November meeting, the group discussed the first step of this planning process, which is to take inventory of all the parks in the county—including places like the Los Padres National Forest and Gaviota State Park, along with county and city facilities—to get an idea of what’s already available in the region, Lindgren said.

While completing this inventory, the steering committee will begin reaching out to the public this spring through surveys and community events to learn what outdoor activities people enjoy the most, such as hiking or biking, and what resources they feel are missing, such as sports fields. Lindgren said the committee will take this community input and identify ways to incorporate the feedback into existing parks or new facilities.

Although the plan will utilize this public input, Lindgren said he anticipates people will raise concerns about a lack of sports fields as well as bikeways and sidewalks that connect neighborhoods to parks. 

Coincidentally, the city of Santa Maria completed its own long-term parks plan, or leisure needs assessment, earlier this year. City Recreation and Parks Recreation Services Manager Dennis Smitherman—who also serves on the county master plan steering committee—said the people who participated in this survey requested more sports fields as well as more youth and teen programs. 

After the committee completes the park inventory and receives public input on the plan, the information will be used to create an online resource with a map of all parks in the county, as well information about what pieces people believe are missing. Lindgren said this should be available to the public early next year. 

The committee will then begin the environmental review work that should assist cities and the county with their grant applications. Lindgren said that through this plan, he also hopes to analyze the economic impact of outdoor recreation on the entire county. 

The Sonoma County Economic Development Board completed a similar study in 2018 and found that the county’s recreation industry supports 4,530 full-time jobs and generates more than $12.3 million in state and local tax revenue. Lindgren said with the number of people who visit places in the county like the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, Cachuma Lake, and Point Sal State Beach, he’s interested in what these numbers look like locally.  

“It’s one of the pieces that will be the most interesting to me, but we are really trying to get the project part of this done first so we can pounce on funding opportunities,” Lindgren said. 

Reach Staff Writer Zac Ezzone at zezzone@santamariasun.com.

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