Regarding De la Guerra Plaza
Dear Historic Landmarks Commission Members
I speak to the De La Guerra plan, but first, celebrate all the good work that your commission has done to maintain the cultural and historic heritage of our fine city.
This “Revitalization Plan” is really a Historic Preservation and Restoration project, not a “from scratch, imagined place.” The City Hall Plaza exists. It has a proud, 100-year, distinguished history, and it offers users a unique and genuine look that was best in its 1920 beginning. The present “Conceptual Plan” does not say “important historical place,” it says “shopping mall”!
This plaza design contract originated when council wanted to find a Farmers Market location so they could build their new police station. There was no public outcry for it. Council awarded a $37,000 contract to RRM to explore locating the market there.
The project has grown into a much more complex entity — now approaching $1 million in design fees alone. The design fees are budgeted, but construction of a new $10 million plaza would probably be a hard sell. Better to do a simpler, less costly restoration and preservation project, and leave some funds for State Street improvements.
The council appointed the Historic Landmarks Commission as the “governing body” for this project. It didn’t give it to the Advisory Committee, it went to the HLC. Your commission has a major responsibility to steer it to an “appropriate, historic, and cultural end.” What an honor and a treat!
In February 2021, the HLC said: the most important goal for this place is to have a more “Traditional look, with a Period of Significance being 1853-1924.” That is exactly what is there now — for in the ’20s, a narrow, paved, and curbed road, with sidewalks and grass, were a thing of pride for a growing city like Santa Barbara. Just look at our neighboring S.B. County Courthouse — set back from a distinguished road and surrounded by lawn.
Don’t expect pedestrians to flock to this plaza when State Street is a better choice. To create activity, the car really helps, and at 10-15 miles per hour, pedestrians and cars are a comfortable match. Together they create a reason for activity — mostly coming and going, but still activity. A pedestrian-only place couldn’t compete for activity with State Street, even with a bubbler fountain.
If I may suggest, postpone dealing with De la Guerra Plaza until State Street is finished and has had a year or so of use. DLG plaza will survive, and probably be better integrated.
Rich Untermann an emeritus professor of Urban Planning at the University of Oregon, who has retired to Santa Barbara and been involved with the Bicycle Coalition and other local concerns.