The Plaza Is Worth Saving

The current design of De la Guerra Plaza is a century old. Like it or not and whether or not its design was intentional, this cultural landscape is historic. Cultural landscapes have been included in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties since 1992. I think the plaza is worth saving. Sitting in the grass with some local food and watching the performances during Fiesta Mercado is one of Santa Barbara’s great pleasures.

In his op-ed, Sullivan Israel says the plaza is empty at almost all times of the year except Fiesta. This is not true. People like to drive up and pay their utility bills at City Hall and, pre-pandemic, attend City Council meetings. There are often political rallies in the plaza.

The writer claims that redoing the plaza “will finally realize the vision created by prominent architects who designed our most noteworthy buildings.” This is absolutely not true, as a glance at the proposals by these architects in “Plaza De la Guerra Reconsidered” (published by The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation in 2002) will reveal when compared with the proposed design presented to the Historic Landmarks Commission in May, which illustrated the opinion piece. The writer thinks people need to be “safe from cars” without presenting any evidence that there have been accidents.

The city has failed to articulate what the problem is that needs fixing besides lawn maintenance. It would be a simple matter to irrigate the lawn with grey water and educate people about how to do it, or better yet, plant kikuyu grass, which is tough as nails. Technically it’s invasive, but contained and mown, it would not be a problem as Lockwood de Forest demonstrated at his Todos Santos Lane garden in the 1920s. This visionary wanted his lawn to be brown in the summer to harmonize with our native landscape. Rain made both green again.

What will the city’s liability be if somebody slips on the proposed splash fountain? Why spend copious amounts of cash remodeling the plaza?

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