CPA Makes Suggestions for De la Guerra Plaza Update Joint Hearing

Dear Historic Landmarks Commission members:

Citizens Planning Association has been active in Santa Barbara since 1960, working for good planning, including the preservation of our historic resources for the present and future appreciation of Santa Barbara residents. The de la Guerra Plaza is central to the two or three blocks of our historic civic center, the heart of our city, and it deserves and needs careful and caring attention. And, finally, it’s not a park but a plaza that has had a lot of study and praise over the years.

It’s a balance: city commons are organic, not stuck in the past but responsive to present needs and designs, always keeping in mind the wishes of the residents

Recommendations for this hearing:

Landscaping: first and foremost, there needs to be a grassy center. In this period of a changing climate and the recognition of the value of greenery, to convert even a small Plaza into hardscape is not wanted, probably, by most Santa Barbarans increasingly few of whom have their own backyards. The 2011 plans brought the lawn from 17,307 sq. ft, 43.5% of the project area, down to 10,731 sq. ft; why, a little more than 10 years later, the urge to replace it completely! Best, as others have noted, to bring in purple-piped water and allow the grass to grow.

A proposed splash pad water feature should be abandoned. It would be better located in a neighborhood park than in front of City Hall. Even the questionnaire respondents voted against it: 51 disliking to 14 likes. The argument in favor was that it would attract families with toddlers or weary visitors from State Street. We think that if the Plaza were revitalized with cared-for grass, benches and seating, with art displays, and is used, as are many commons, for public gatherings, the public would return to enjoying it, as they used to not so long ago.

We also have concerns about adding trees, their water and nurture needs, the space they’d require taking away from an important usage, public gatherings. However, on the other hand, they would add pleasant shade for summer lounging. We think that the changes for the Anacapa Street entrance are positive and long overdue.

Not least in the landscaping, the venerable Washingtonia filifera, the California palm, should be allowed to live out its life in place. However, if it must be moved, then before that’s done there should be an independent analysis by an arborist knowledgeable of such palms, skilled in such a move and able to assure Santa Barbarans via the HLC that the tree will survive.

We also don’t understand the moving of the flagpoles and the apparent move of the major plaque, which commemorates Casa de la Guerra and the Plaza.

CPA is very grateful to the Historic Landmarks Commission for your dedication to protecting the historic character and charm of Santa Barbara. For this very important civic and historic site, surrounded by designated historic buildings, there’s a need for more public participation in the “revitalization process” and a thorough environmental review.

Yours sincerely,

Marell Brooks
President of Citizens Planning Association