The Santa Barbara City Council took one small step closer to approving a major facelift for De la Guerra Plaza, the erstwhile town square in front of City Hall where many special events-like the Fiesta’s main stage and El Mercado-take place. The council’s action only committed City Hall to limited environmental analysis of the proposed project, not actual approval of the $2.2 million project itself. The latest incarnation has been scaled back, and has been supported-with qualifications-by the Downtown Organization and the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. These groups had opposed previous plans to re-invent the plaza as a pedestrian-only urban oasis. Some businesses are still concerned about too many special events, which often require streets to be blocked off, thus choking them off from potential customers.
It remains to be seen how aggressively the News-Press will fight the latest iteration. In the past, the daily led the charge against the proposed changes. If approved, five of the public parking spaces surrounding the plaza would be lost; three are in front of the News-Press. All plaza parking spaces would be converted from 75-minute free parking to 15-minute parking. In addition, the street would be elevated to become flush with the plaza grass itself, new sidewalks constructed, and a new electrical power infrastructure installed capable of handling the increasing load posed by special events. Councilmember Iya Falcone blasted the proposal as “a colossal waste of money.” She acknowledged the sidewalks and electrical infrastructure need to be fixed-though at far less cost-but dismissed the rest as “a grand scheme to make it some Italian Plaza.”