De la Guerra Plaza Workshop Aims to Imagine the Future of Santa Barbara’s ‘Public Square’

Release Date: March 9,2019

City asks for public’s help with suggestions to revitalize historic space and feedback on possible farmers market location

De la Guerra Plaza Click to view larger
On Saturday afternoon, more than 100 people attended a community workshop focusing on revitalizing Santa Barbara’s De la Guerra Plaza. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)
By Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews | March 9, 2019

A permanent stage for music performances, food carts and family movie nights are some community activities residents want to see in Santa Barbara’s De la Guerra Plaza.

On Saturday afternoon, more than 100 people attended a workshop focusing on revitalizing the downtown plaza. The City of Santa Barbara held a nearly two-hour gathering across the street from the space.

It was the first step in developing a concept plan for the revitalization of the De La Guerra Plaza and gather public input on what the location could be used for and potential design elements.

 

The plaza — adjacent to City Hall, a half-block off State Street and across East De la Guerra Street from the historic Casa De la Guerra — was first dedicated as a “public square” in 1853. It has since served as the city’s main gathering spot for the annual Old Spanish Days Mercado De la Guerra, rallies, political marches, vigils and other events, said project manager Brad Hess, who also is working on the new Santa Barbara police station.

“This is the center of town, and it has been for a long time,” Hess told the crowd. “It’s not acting like that right now. We want to bring that back.”

A makeover of the plaza involves expanding the available space by making aesthetic and structural improvements to better serve the community’s art and cultural events throughout the year, according to city staff.

The plaza includes a lawn and has street parking.

“The baseline design is that we want this to ... truly be a plaza,” Hess said.

City planners are considering De la Guerra Plaza as the new location for the Saturday farmers market.

The popular farmers market would have to be relocated if the East Cota Street parking lot is selected as the site for the new police station. The station would replace the current SBPD headquarters at 215 E. Figueroa St., Hess said.

De la Guerra Plaza Click to view larger
With Casa De la Guerra, on the left, and Santa Barbara City Hall as a backdrop, De la Guerra Plaza was first dedicated as a “public square” in 1853. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Parking was a major discussion topic at Saturday’s event.

The current farmers market has more than 800 off-street public parking spaces within 750 feet of the site, according to city staff, and the Cota lot provides more than 200 weekday commuting parking spaces to nearly 400 permit holders who work downtown.

City planners are evaluating the impacts of weekday parking loss and other potential situations.

De la Guerra Plaza has more than 1,700 off-street public parking spaces within 750 feet.

Residents had the opportunity to comment on the plaza’s uses, activities, design, functionality, infrastructure and circulation.

City staff provided questionnaires and comment cards for people at the event.

Among the survey questions residents answered:

» “What would you like to do in the plaza?”

De la Guerra Plaza Click to view larger
City staff provided questionnaires and comment cards for workshop attendees to share their suggestions for De la Guerra Plaza. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

» “Should parking in the plaza stay the same or is there a different system that should be considered?”

» “How do we create greater public access and engagement downtown?”

» “What functionality issues exist today?”

Ample electricity, shade, paving the plaza, good drainage and restricting fake grass were suggestions individuals made.

“When you start weighing conflicting opinions — (the project is about) what’s going to be best for the overall community and how can we meet as many needs as possible?” Hess told Noozhawk.

“It’s not going to be perfect. Not everyone is going to get what they want, but we are hoping that in the end, it’s a plaza that’s ideal for the community.”

Suggestions for the plaza included mobile art shows, kids activities, and a space that allows alcohol.

“It’s very early in the process,” said Suzanne Elledge, principal planner with Suzanne Elledge Planning & Permitting Services.

She recommended people be “thoughtful” and “visionary” in their remarks.

After Saturday’s workshop, Elledge explained, project planners will complete stakeholder meetings with organizations, merchants and individuals.

The findings will be reported to the City Council on March 26, according to Elledge.

The concept plan will include a public review period and more community hearings will occur, she said.

If everything goes smoothly, the design schedule is anticipated for this spring, with construction starting in 2020.

“This is a special plaza,” Elledge said. “It’s historic. There is a lot of enthusiasm and positive feelings about this project, and any improvements that we make have to be sensitive and respectful to the historic resources.

“The plaza is surrounded by historic landmarks, and it has a deep and rich history.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com.

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