Capping off a rare showdown between City Hall committees, the Santa Barbara City Council voted to declare the downtown library, the Faulkner Gallery — but not the 1980 addition bridging the two structures — and five 80-year-old eucalyptus trees hovering nearby as historic landmarks. The trees — described during a lengthy debate as “lemon-scented gum trees” — proved most contentious, with landmark status opposed by city librarian Irene Macias, Parks & Rec czar Nancy Rapp, and their two respective citizens’ advisory committees. Likewise, the landmark status was opposed by the head of the downtown Art Museum, as well as the head of the county Arts Commission, all of whom argued the trees were protected already and that additional safeguards could impede efforts to create a new plaza outside the library entrance.
Prevailing over such formidable opposition was landscape architect Bob Cunningham, the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission, and a cadre of historic preservationists who became alarmed by preliminary plans unveiled last year for a new library plaza that called for the elimination of three eucalyptus trees. Initially, they argued in favor of landmarking no less than 13 of the trees, arguing that they’d been drawn into the original plans for the library and gallery in the 1920s, that they’d become integral to the city’s skyline since, and that they’ve softened what might otherwise be a forbidding part of downtown, disproportionately dominated by large institutional buildings.
Mayor Helene Schneider and Councilmember Cathy Murillo objected that the trees had bypassed the normal process by which City Hall declares historic landmarks. Schneider noted that the $1.5 million needed to create the new plaza disappeared when a state court abolished all redevelopment agencies earlier this year and that no remote threat to the trees existed. But when Councilmember Dale Francisco moved that five of the 13 trees be protected with landmark designation, he secured a 5-2 majority.