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After years of planning and working mostly behind the scenes, the group behind a proposed new park and playground in Vandenberg Village is now reaching out to the community for input as it prepares to go after a multimillion-dollar state grant that could soon make the project a reality.

Steve Heuring, president of the nonprofit Vandenberg Village Park and Playground Coalition's board of directors, was among the speakers who addressed the Buena Vista Elementary School PTA on Thursday night during a presentation that marked the latest in a string of forums and other outreach efforts involving project organizers.

Heuring, along with a landscape architect and Santa Barbara County parks manager, went over several of the preliminary plans for the proposed recreational venue, which would be centrally located on a 1.5-acre parcel of county-owned land along Constellation Road between the Village Shopping Center and CoastHills Credit Union.

Heuring acknowledged early in his presentation that the project, which has been in the planning stages since 2012, has been a “long struggle,” but he said afterward that he was as confident as ever in its viability.

“It’s very exciting,” Heuring said of the park’s future. “I can see that light at the end of the tunnel that this is going to happen. At some level, it’s going to happen.”

Finding funding

One of the major obstacles has been securing the funding for not only the construction but also, all the preconstruction studies and design work.

The Park and Playground Coalition, which was formed to support the project, raised $25,000 over the past seven years, according to Heuring, but $19,000 of that has been spent on preliminary work.

The project got its first major financial boost when county officials located $100,000 in developer fees that could be applied to design work and permitting. Jill Van Wie, a county parks capital division manager, said that the county, as soon as early June, could allocate another $30,000 from the same developer fees that could go toward environmental work.

While those funds could go a long way toward getting all the plans completed, the project leaders are looking to a much bigger funding source for the actual construction.

The park organizers are in the process of developing an application in which they will ask for about $2 million in grant funding made available through the state’s Proposition 68 bond — also known as the Parks, Environment, and Water Bond — that passed in the June 2018 election.

More than $254 million is expected to be made available statewide through the Prop. 68 grant program. Applications for portions of that funding are due by Aug. 5. If the Village park plan is approved for the grant, which should be known by the end of the year, construction on the facility would need to be completed by 2022.

Van Wie said she anticipated that deadline would not be a problem if the Prop. 68 request is granted.

“[The project] should be ready to go, designwise, by December 2020, and then we can move forward,” she said.

Community involvement

While the funding is still largely a wild card, project leaders are reaching out now for input on what community members want to see in the new green space.

Current plans, developed by the San Luis Obispo-based Firma Consultants, call for a small driveway and parking lot off Constellation Road that leads into a walkway that divides two separate kids play areas — one for children ages 2 to 6, and another for children ages 6 to 12. The plans also include two large lawn areas, a donor garden, a picnic area, and a flexible use zone that could host events or vendors for activities like a farmers market.

Lindsay Corica, a principal landscape architect with Firma, noted that an effort is being made to keep natural existing tree canopies in certain areas and to maintain and manage the Burton Mesa Chaparral on the park’s northwest end.

“We want to respect the site and respect the plants,” she said.

“The Park Coalition has had ecology in mind the whole time; we don’t want to just disrupt the site and pave it all,” she later added. “We want to be ecological and save these existing features and natural features. It’s required by the law, also, so we want to make sure we do everything we can to preserve the site and also enhance it.”

At Thursday’s PTA meeting, Corica directly asked the parents in attendance about what they’d like to see in the park. One of the suggestions was to implement a memorial to honor local veterans and pay tribute to the region’s ties to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Heuring and Corica pointed out that other ideas that have come up at community meetings have included installing a dog-walking area and a looping walking path for people to walk laps.

There is no firm estimate on the overall project cost yet, Corica said, because so much depends what people want to see in the venue.

“We can do a very ecological park with wood chips and minimal structures, or we can go all the way and build a mega play structure that’s space-themed and takes the kids out of this world, but that’s going to be more expensive,” she said. “So there’s really a range and what we’re doing is designing the top quality and designing a really fun beautiful park with good, quality materials and then we can scale back [if necessary].”

Vandenberg Village resident Melissa Coombs, one of the parents attending the Buena Vista PTA meeting, said she was fully supportive of the effort.

“I think it’s a needed park,” Coombs said at the meeting. “I think it’s perfect. We need a space for our families to be able to go, here in the Village, and just chill.”

Moving forward

Because the park’s progress is so dependent upon finances that aren’t yet secured, there is no definite timetable for its construction.

Still, Corica said everything is “moving in the right direction.”

“These aren’t the only plans we’ve developed,” she said, referring to the preliminary site plan. “We have an electrical engineer, a civil engineer, [and] a biologist has done two surveys, so we’re really moving forward with getting all the studies done to make sure that this can be implemented.”

If the Prop. 68 grant is approved, Corica estimated that the park could be up within two years.

Heuring said he is enjoying spreading the word about the project and hearing from neighbors about what they want to see in it.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm, and there’s some negatives out there, too,” he said. “But the positive has far outweighed the negatives.”

Corica, who has been working on the project since 2016, noted that the motivation behind the park hasn't changed: To provide the Vandenberg Village community with a public place for fun, recreation and relaxation.

“Santa Barbara County is a big county and it’s a wealthy county and I would just say this Village doesn’t have the attention with the quality of parks like the other areas in this county do,” she said, noting that other funding would be sought if the Prop. 68 grant doesn’t work out. “We are standing for the Village to give them a nice, quality park.”

For information on the Vandenberg Village Park and Playground Coalition and/or the project, visit www.vvppc.org or email contactus@vvppc.org. Donations are also being accepted for work related to the park, as well as its ongoing maintenance after it's constructed.

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Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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Reporter

Willis Jacobson covers news and other issues, primarily those that affect the Lompoc Valley and Vandenberg Air Force Base, for Lee Central Coast News. He is a graduate of The University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.