Can and should Saturday’s farmers’ market be relocated from its longtime digs at the Cota Street parking lot to De la Guerra Plaza? Although there’s reportedly been considerable interest in such a move—even excitement—by members of the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market board of directors and the City Council, the council just voted to allocate $40,000 to wage a public outreach campaign. That process is to ensure there’s no repeat of the abrupt manner in which City Hall announced this past fall that the Cota Street lot was the preferred location for the new police station. That news caught the farmers’ market community by surprise and triggered a quick firestorm of confusion mixed with outrage.
The council hired land-use consultant Suzanne Elledge. They will also hire an architect to hammer out plans showing how De la Guerra Plaza could be redesigned to accommodate an event as big as the farmers’ market. To make it work, the entire plaza would have to be raised up to curb level. The lawn would go. In addition, De la Guerra Street would be blocked off at State and Anacapa streets, as is done every year during Fiesta. No estimate exists yet for how much such a transformation would cost, but it’s expected that most of the money would come from the city’s Measure C infrastructure funds.
Plans to reconfigure De la Guerra Plaza have been pursued before, but foundered in the face of opposition from the News-Press. Subterranean political efforts are reportedly now in play to enlist News-Press support; the News-Press employee parking lot would help address concerns about adequate parking among market vendors. Even without the News-Press lot, project manager Brad Hess said, there was no shortage of public lots nearby, including City Hall’s. Relocating the farmers’ market to De la Guerra Plaza, Hess said, would give downtown Santa Barbara a much-needed shot in the arm. The plaza was dedicated to the city in 1853, Hess said, but functioned as the town center for 30 years prior to that. That legacy will need to be acknowledged in any new plans, he said.