De la Guerra Plaza in Santa Barbara.
The Santa Barbara City Council has voted to move forward with the De la Guerra Plaza Revitalization Project totaling almost $1 million. Credit: Grace Kitayama / Noozhawk photo

Despite several thwarted attempts, new proposals for De La Guerra Plaza in Santa Barbara could shine new light on the site’s future. 

The City Council voted unanimously to move forward with a design and lighting plan for the De la Guerra Plaza Revitalization Project totaling almost $1 million.

The city will spend $865,088 for architectural and design services for the De la Guerra Plaza Revitalization Project as well as an additional $65,599 for lighting design for the De la Guerra Plaza Revitalization Project. 

The plaza in front of City Hall was once the city’s center, including events and performances during Old Spanish Days. However, it has become a location frequented by unhoused community members.

Planning for the plaza has been in progress since 2019, when a committee tasked with planning for the plaza was created. 

The water feature and hardscape design have been proposed and rejected in the past by the Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission.

Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse said the space should be as “programmable as possible” with the plaza’s main function continuing to be for social gatherings, as is its historic purpose.

“To me, the most programmable, most wide open space we could possibly yield out of this, to me would be the most preferable use out of it,” Rowse said.

Rowse said he was concerned with the parking spaces being taken out and the water features being added to the design. 

“When you turn something over like a big blank slate to designers, they can’t help themselves or they want to put in a whole bunch of features and furnishings and whatnot,” Rowse said. “And then we turn a bunch of furnishings out because they got abused, been around long enough to see and all that.”

Santa Barbara Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon, who chairs the De la Guerra Plaza Revitalization Design Advisory Committee, noted that the committee also has included Chumash representatives in honoring the historic parts of the plaza and is “very pleased” with the updates on the project.

The project is scheduled to go before the Historic Landmarks Commission on March 2. 

The plan will be approached as five separate projects — architecture, landscape, public art, archaeology and utility coordination.

The proposal includes removing the current parking spots, adding an interactive water feature, self-cleaning restrooms, a shaded area at the edge of the plaza for casual seating, a stage with a backdrop for performances during Old Spanish Days, art from local artists, and subterranean trash cans.

The proposed self-cleaning restrooms would not eliminate the need for janitorial staff but rather spray the bathrooms with a disinfectant on a programmed timer, as well as automatically lock overnight.

The trash cans would look like normal trash cans but have large receptacles underground that would store more waste.

A rough timeline for the project suggests that it could be completed as soon as March 2025.

However, “nothing in this project has gone to the projected schedules,” said Brad Hess, principal project manager for the City of Santa Barbara. “But we feel that these are reasonable and realistic goals to shoot for.”