Bare ground in Santa Barbara’s De la Guerra Plaza.
Despite continuing drought conditions, the Santa Barbara City Council is discussing the possiblity of restoring the lawn in De la Guerra Plaza, which has mostly deteriorated to dirt without water. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawkk photo)

Santa Barbara is in a drought emergency, and residents throughout the city are being asked to conserve water. 

Even so, the city might again start watering De la Guerra Plaza, the once-verdant expanse of grass in front of City Hall in the heart of downtown.

Councilman Gregg Hart asked the city staff on Tuesday if it could find a way to water the plaza, which has degenerated into mostly dirt. 

“I think it is time that we think about De la Guerra Plaza,” Hart said. “It’s the front yard of Santa Barbara.”

Hart made his comments at Tuesday’s Stage 3 Drought Report before the City Council.

Hart pointed out that Santa Barbara is using less water today than it did in the 1950s, when there was half of the current population. 

He said the city turned off the sprinklers to the plaza as a symbolic gesture to save water, but that time has passed.

“We don’t need symbolism anymore,” Hart said. “We need to save water in a smart way, where it matters.”

Councilman Randy Rowse agreed, saying, “We need to re-establish our aesthetic at De la Guerra Plaza.”

“It is the front door to the town,” Rowse said.

However, Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon countered that the city needs to continue conservation and avoid the appearance of a double standard.

“We are in an unprecedented emergency,” Sneddon said. “The lawn is dead and we’re not coming back from that. Being at the 1950s level doesn’t matter if Cachuma is at 32 percent capacity.”

Sneddon suggested that the city take the lead and install some plants that don’t require the heavy usage of water that a lawn does. De la Guerra Plaza currently isn’t piped to use reclaimed water. 

Councilman Jason Dominguez agreed. He suggested that the city hold a contest and ask landscape architects to come up with a plan for permeable paving or hardscape that would reduce the need for water at the site.

He also suggested “maybe removing the parking that was added years ago to re-energize the space.”

Public Works Director Rebecca Bjork said the staff would look into Hart’s request.

“I certainly think that De la Guerra is an active recreation space,” Bjork said. “We will take a look at what we can do to re-establish the plaza.”

Water Resources Manager Joshua Haggmark told the council that the city just finished its seventh consecutive driest year on record. Cachuma last spilled in 2011.

“We remain in extreme drought conditions,” Haggmark said. “The city remains in a drought emergency.”

The city has enough water to last through 2020, using a combination of supplies from Lake Cachuma, the State Water Project, water stored in Gibraltar Reservoir, groundwater, desalination, recycled water, and conservation that meets or exceeds the 30 percent water conservation target.

Additional water shortages are anticipated in 2021, assuming no significant inflow to Gibraltar and Cachuma over the next three years.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.