Del Playa’s Open Space and the History Behind the Patches

Illustration by Diane Kim

Lucian Scher 

Investigative Beat Reporter

There is a big empty dirt patch across from 6842 Del Playa (D.P.), just north of Sea Lookout Park. One might wonder why there are no buildings on this prime property. At first glance, it does not look like much at all except for a dried-out, undeveloped space. But a closer look reveals the secrets of the patch, which was officially designated by the Isla Vista Parks and Recreation website as “Del Playa Open Space.” The Bottom Line spoke with Nick Norman of Isla Vista Recreation and Park District (IVRPD) about the park.

The 8.21 acre space, located on stunning oceanside D.P. real estate, is owned by the IVRPD, while the surrounding bluff was acquired by Santa Barbara County after the military left the area in 1945. 

“As a tax-funded government agency, IVRPD and its parks are subject to the California Parks Protection Policy, which prohibits the sale of public parkland,” said Norman. So, the patch is here to stay.

A 1997 grant from the Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund and a 1998 transfer of ownership from Santa Barbara County to IVRPD leaves 6842 Del Playa Open Space as a public vernal pool area for all species to enjoy.

IVRPD has been working to develop a comprehensive habitat management plan that would preserve native flora and fauna while eliminating invasive species such as rumex crispis, also commonly known as curly dock weed, from the 6842 Open Space vernal pool, as well as those located at Camino Del Sol and Camino Corto Open Spaces, Nick explained.

During the dry seasons of summer and fall — and throughout most of the year in fact — it is hard to find anything special about vernal pools in the area. The wildlife is at most occasional and flocks in only when there is water in the pool. When it is dry, the best you will find is old furniture and an abundance of pet droppings. Many endemic species spend the dry season as eggs or seeds, but when the rain finally falls in Winter and Spring, the pools fill up to provide an excellent breeding ground for amphibians and macroinvertebrates (insects). No permanent inflow or outflow means the eggs and babies of these creatures are free from the hungry eyes of fish. This phenomenon causes birds to flock to the vernal pools in search of their next meal, making it an excellent place to birdwatch as well. 

Some of the local species that you may encounter in Isla Vista’s vernal pools are drought-tolerant plants — such as the common spike-rush, the popcorn flower, the armored coyote thistle, the western rush, and the Vasey’s coyote thistle — as well as amphibians like the California tiger salamander. 

So next time you are walking down the 68 block, or by any of the other vernal pools in the area, take a second to take a closer look. Watch for wildlife and signs of an active ecosystem. Consider the aging eggs and resting seeds common to the vernal pool, among the pet droppings and discarded furniture. Take a rest at the wooden bench installed in 2018 as a passive recreation feature for cliff walkers to sit and enjoy the views of the ocean during sunset, which was carved from a fallen cypress tree.

Also consider volunteering with the IVPRD, who is “actively working to identify funding sources within its limited budget that can be allocated towards supporting the improvement of various park amenities, including educational signage,” Nick says. Like the ecological informational sign on that little patch of dirt that is more than meets the eye.