After mulling various possible changes to De La Guerra Plaza for seven years, the City Council appears to have settled on a scaled back design plan it thinks it probably can live with. The latest plans call for sinking the plaza’s lawn area to be flush with the street, thus expanding the usable areas available during special events. The existing palm trees would be replaced with new ones with more life left than the current crop, the flag poles would be moved to face City Hall, and the sidewalk that runs along the back of State Street shops and restaurants would be nearly doubled in width, to better accommodate pedestrians and outdoor dining tables.
The impetus to change the plaza — home to the historic Casa de la Guerra, City Hall, and the Santa Barbara News-Press — started because of chronic electrical problems afflicting the performers and food booths at the Fiesta’s Mercado. What started off as a simple laundry list of infrastructure fix-its soon blossomed into a full-scale remodel and face lift combined.
But those plans were deemed too ambitious — and expensive — by the likes of the Downtown Organization and the Chamber of Commerce. Whether the current plans are “just right” remain to be seen, but this Tuesday they seemed to pass the “not-too-hot-and-not-too-cold test” with previous critics. The Downtown Organization remains concerned that the new design will prove more inviting to large special events, which wreak economic havoc on downtown businesses. And Dennis Rickard — son of former Mayor Jack Rickard — complained the proposed changes were still too big and, at $2.2 million, still too expensive.
But city planners said the money was already set aside, thanks to previous Redevelopment Agency bond sales. And current mayor Helene Schneider called the plaza the city’s “public square,” adding, “Everyone one of us has attended or organized events at that plaza.” No actual vote was taken, and Tuesday’s deliberations over a glorified progress report mark the beginning of a new round of exhaustive public review.