Keep the good things at Buena Vista Park

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on MAY 6, 2016:

Santa Maria is trying to make Buena Vista Park, it’s oldest, a kinder and more beautiful place. Although officials have some things right, the overall plan of taking out the historic bell-shaped walkway, basketball courts and picnic tables leaves much to be desired.

A sidewalk and concrete circle installed in the 1970s portrays the El Camino Real bell. The shape works well with the circle in the center, and the sides of the bells opening out to the east. The circle should become a central area for events. Real bells like those on the highway and other features should be added to embrace the history of the park.

The site also has four half-courts for basketball. They are in good shape except for some hairline cracks. No one complains about them. They get a lot of use, yet the city plans to tear them out because there are too many people congregating there. Isn’t that a sign of success?

We need to plan for all age groups — toddlers, young children, teens, young adults, mature adults and seniors, as well as those with disabilities.

The city has proposed replacing the courts with three half-court circles, trying to make the park feel safer, but there are other ways to do that. They should keep the courts and expand them to make one or two full courts that can be used for regular games. The play area now in the center of the circle could be moved farther away from the basketball courts to provide for more separation between adults and children. If needed, another play area could be added to accommodate multiple age groups.

Buena Vista Park is bordered by Santa Maria High School, Fairpark, CET, Head Start and Good Samaritan Shelter. It is behind the Santa Maria Inn and south of the Minerva Club. These groups, along with SBCAN and CAUSE, came together in November 2013 to form Buena Vista Beautifiers (BVB) to improve the park.

BVB has surveyed more than 300 people who live nearby. We’ve looked at the city’s plans and made suggestions based on what neighbors want, but they have ignored our primary concerns.

Their plan takes out all of the picnic tables. Clustered in two areas, they are said to attract the wrong elements. They could be spread out around the park so families can have their own spaces.

Their plan does not show any of the existing mature trees. We were told they would be taken out if they were in the way. Our plans design around them.

If we keep what is working, we can afford more new amenities than if they tear everything out and put in structures that serve fewer people.

We could add some really innovative climbing and play structures for all age groups and for people with disabilities, the likes of which have never been seen around Santa Maria. There could be places for skating, biking, working out, and a walking course. There is a plan to add a tetherball area, and a new playground for young children. They are not enough.

BVB recently met with city representatives who will report to the Recreation and Parks Commission at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, May 10, at City Hall. We don’t know if they will have a new design, but we hope enough people will speak up so they will retain what is good at the park while adding new features. Please speak out at the next commission meeting. For more information, visit

Jeanne Sparks is associate director of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN). She can be reached at [email protected]. Looking Forward is a progressive look at local issues.