A rendering of the proposed De la Guerra Plaza.
A rendering of the proposed De la Guerra Plaza, including a bubbler water feature. Credit: Courtesy rendering

The fate of the century-old De la Guerra Plaza in Santa Barbara could boil down to a “bubbler” water feature.

A proposed water feature has become center stage for a broader discussion on what should be done about the historic De la Guerra Plaza.

“The bubbler — please spare me,” Roseanne Crawford said during public comment. “This is not a modern building, this is not a park. This is De La Guerra Plaza.

“The bubbler is absolutely atrocious. It’s hideous.”

The city’s Historic Landmarks Commission met Wednesday to offer feedback on the plan for the plaza. 

Before the meeting, 16 letters were submitted to the commission for public comment on the project. Principal project manager Brad Hess provided an overview of the general themes of the letters to the commission members.

Members of the commission were largely in support of the plan with the recommendation that a wheelchair ramp be added to the proposed building, and the bubbler fountain either be moved to a different location from where the project proposed or removed from the project entirely.

“I have never approved of the bubbler in that location,” said Steve Hausz, vice chair of the commission. “I would have to say I would vote no on the project for an approval if the bubbler were still there. I just feel that strongly about it.”

A rendering of the proposed De la Guerra Plaza in Santa Barbara.
A rendering of the proposed De la Guerra Plaza in Santa Barbara. Credit: Courtesy rendering

The commission voted 6-2 with one abstention to continue the discussion project in its current plan. Commission members Ed Lenvik and Cass Ensberg voted against the project, saying they don’t believe the current design is right for the location.

“I think we are perpetuating a project that is going in the wrong direction,” Lenvik said about why he voted against the plan.

“I share that sentiment,” Ensberg added.

The plaza was previously Santa Barbara’s town square but now is mostly a location frequented by the city’s homeless population. Plans for what to do with the city’s former center have been in the works since 2019. In the four years since, 14 meetings have been held in the planning of the plaza.

Hess presented the plan for the project and said he hoped to achieve a consensus on the project moving forward.

The construction of a pavilion, the surface materials used for the plaza, restrooms located in Stoke Placita, and the water feature, or “bubbler” design are among the most controversial aspects of the project, Hess said.

“Everyone wants to protect what we have here in Santa Barbara,” Hess said. “They want to make sure that the plaza design is in keeping with the historic setting and that the design calls for using appropriate materials. But they don’t want it to change.”

Several updates to the plan were created, including a pavilion building and stage that will be added between City Hall and the News-Press Building that will provide a backdrop during performances such as Fiesta and double as a “multi-use,” “flexible” building.

The bubbler water feature was changed to a circular design, which artists believe will be more cohesive with Chumash art that is also planned for the plaza.

Despite concerns that the design plan will limit the use of the plaza, Hess said the plans for the plaza will be in keeping with the town square designation it was given in 1952. 

Members of the public attended the meeting to share their thoughts on the project. They shared concerns that the plan was not doing justice to preserve the historic, Spanish style of the plaza.

“This is an awful plan. Period,” Rich Untermann said during public comment, adding that the plan should be put on hold until the State Street Master Plan is finalized in order to ensure the projects will be cohesive.

Paulina Conn added that the plaza should be repaired rather than change completely.

“This whole plaza will be an eyesore within a year,” Conn said. “Whereas the plaza we have now has lasted for 100 years. All we need is repair and maintenance.”

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Grace Kitayama, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Grace Kitayama is a Noozhawk staff writer.