This week, the City of Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Commission reviewed the proposed design for the new San Lorenzo Park (shown in the photo above) at a meeting on January 8, 2024. The Commission made a recommendation to the City Council to accept the design of the Uplands portion of the park (which includes the proposed play area, central plaza, sports courts, and an upland event space), while recommending that a comprehensive, inclusive restoration analysis be conducted to further inform the future of the Riverlands portion of the park (also known as the Benchlands).

This motion was adopted after several amendments, including that the City Council consider specific feedback for the Uplands section discussed during the meeting, such as identification and preservation of lawn bowling within the park, the location and design of an AIDS memorial within the park, and including an upland pond as a water feature. Specific feedback also included that the design team meet with Indigenous groups present at the January 8 meeting, that a focus should be on daytime pickleball use only, and to support the Upland amphitheater.

Following this week’s meeting, next steps in the process include bringing the recommended layout before the City Council in February 2024, and developing a final plan and report which may be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission in April 2024. More information related to the San Lorenzo Park redesign process can be found online here.  

The Park Re-Design Process To Date

This meeting and recommendation follow several months of community engagement around imagining what a redesigned San Lorenzo Park could look like. Over the course of 2023, a team including Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation Department staff and the architecture firm Bionic Landscape, Inc. held two public meetings (February and October), conducted two online public surveys (April and November), and met with dozens of key individuals and groups to learn the community’s priorities, hopes, and needs around the park.  

During the most recent community meeting and survey, participants were asked to vote on different park layouts showing varying sized areas of the park designated for play structures, events and recreation spaces, and habitat restoration along the San Lorenzo River. Thank you to everyone who has taken part to-date in the planning process for the redesign of San Lorenzo Park, whether by taking a survey, attending a meeting, or writing a letter of support!  

Commission Meeting Details

Based on this input, the redesign team created a single recommended park layout that they presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission (shown in the top image). The Commission’s task was to review the proposed park layout and make their own recommendation to City Council as to whether or not to accept this design. The design team noted that many natural and existing features give the park a linear shape that consists of two main sections on either side of the existing Riverwalk path: the Riverlands (also known as the Benchlands) closest to the San Lorenzo River, and the Uplands area on the east side of the path.  

In addition to reviewing the proposed park layout, the re-design team summarized an analysis conducted by the consultants Environmental Science Associates (ESA) that explored how restoration of the Riverlands area could provide additional flood control benefits. ESA recommended that the creation of a side channel or inlet (“alcove”) to create a seasonal wetland are two options worthy of further study to increase wetland habitat in the park, as well as the overall amount of water that the river can manage during a flood. 

The meeting drew about 80 attendees, and 11 community groups and more than 20 individuals offered public comments. Among them, CWC Executive Director Laurie Egan spoke about the importance of three elements in the park design – flood protection, habitat restoration, and community access – and noted that public use of the park is important to activate positive activities along the river, improve safety, and prevent environmentally harmful activities such as vandalism and fires. Many groups and individuals used the comment period to speak in favor of restoring the entire Riverlands area, and expressed concern that the proposed multipurpose lawn would fragment the restored wetland habitat. 

You can share your feedback with City Councilmembers​​​​​​​ ahead of their soon-to-be scheduled meeting.  We will continue to follow and share about the future of this important park along the San Lorenzo River!  

A member of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band plays a creation song to support river restoration in San Lorenzo Park during the January 8, 2024, Parks and Recreation Commission Meeting

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