The Santa Barbara City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to move the De la Guerra Plaza revitalization project forward to the city development application process.
The project has been in the works for years, but was brought back to the table in 2019.
While city staff has not solidified a concept design, their preliminary work includes a splash pad, art node and other art pieces, arcade, stage, dining, seating and restroom.
“This is such a welcome change for me, my family, my grandkids,” council member Mike Jordan said. “This is such a needed and overdue change to our downtown.”
The city hopes to add more lighting to the plaza as well, both for safety and visibility and to brighten up the area. Staff discussed implementing landscape, fountain, bench and projection lighting.
Now that the project was sent forward by the council, the Historic Landmarks Commission will do a concept review, followed by a pre-application review team. Then, the HLC will need to approve the archaeological Phase III proposal, the updated historic structures report and the final project design and environmental review.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in City Hall and De la Guerra Plaza and it’s beautiful, but sometimes I’m there and you can see it needs a facelift and it’s a little rough around the edges,” Mayor Cathy Murillo said. “It’s been a long time since the city took this look at it and improving it without changing the basic function of it, so I’m really, really pleased.”
The council also adopted a sea-level rise adaptation plan on Tuesday.
The plan, presented by city staff in the regular meeting on Tuesday, recommends phased planning based on monitoring of conditions and trigger-based actions, along with specific near-, mid- and long-term actions the city can take to plan for sea-level rise.
Council members voted to adopt the plan, direct implementation of it and initiate a local coastal program amendment to update Santa Barbara’s local coastal program as needed with current best available sea-level rise shoreline hazard information.
“I’m very proud that the city took the stance from day one of saying that we’re not debating the science and that we’re making the plan of what to do about it,” council member Kristen Sneddon said. “We don’t know the timing and we don’t always know what the order of operations would be, but to decide on and support the structure of how these decisions will be made is really responsive and adaptive on the part of the city.”
The plan suggests near- and long-term actions such as: continuing to require bluff setbacks factoring in sea-level rise; continuing to limit revetments, prioritizing major public roads; planning to relocate and remove assets in Shoreline Park; using revetments and slope stabilization to protect Shoreline Drive; revising floodplain regulations for development south of Highway 101; continuing development requirements south of Cabrillo Boulevard that factor in sea-level rise; and considering long-term flood protection measures such as seawalls or levees along the waterfront and major creeks, and redesigning or removing Stearns Wharf.
In the presentation, staff said that if no action is taken regarding sea-level rise, with 6.6 inches of flooding and erosion from sea-level rise by the year 2100, it could result in approximately 1,250 parcels impacted; impacts to disadvantaged, low-income, high minority and low English proficiency census blocks in lower Westside and Eastside neighborhoods; and cumulative economic fiscal business and direct property impacts of $4 billion.
The plan also includes developing a shoreline monitoring program, which will track sea levels, beach widths, bluff position and groundwater levels, inform when actions are needed and evaluate success of projects.
Council member Eric Friedman pointed out how some of the policies discussed and implemented in the city regarding sea-level rise have spread throughout the state.
“Our statewide policy is now looking at trigger points rather than taking action at specific times,” he said. “We’re ahead of the game and we’re being seen as an example of what can be done.”
The full sea-level rise adaptation plan for Santa Barbara can be viewed at santabarbaraca.gov/slr.
In other business, the council unanimously denied an appeal by Anna Marie Gott of the Planning Commission’s approval of the bicycle share stations in the coastal zone.
She said that prohibiting the HLC’s review of the project goes against city policy and that the project is inconsistent with the California Coastal Act, along with multiple other issues dealing with docking sites and visuals of kiosks.
The Planning Commission and the Community Development Department made the findings that the project was consistent with city policy, along with the process used to get there.
Mr. Jordan said he doesn’t believe any conflicts are present.
“To me, they (the conflicts) were mostly subjective takes on policy readings,” he said. “This is clearly a contentious point of an opinion versus opinion and I feel the Planning Commission went through the process, made the considerations based on the evidence they saw and their opinion was they could make the findings while reading the same policy documents as the person making an appeal.”
Council members discussed details regarding the locations of the program’s kiosks and docking stations, directing staff to return with data on the use of the system and ways to improve it, such as putting the two accessibility kiosks to the left and right of State Street rather than right at Stearns Wharf.
“The program has to build the capacity to show that it works so that we can expand it into residential neighborhoods,” Mr. Friedman said. “We gave the direction two years ago, and if we aren’t very thoughtful tonight… we run the risk of taking these two years of effort and basically losing that.”
Staff and council members agreed that because the bikeshare program is a pilot program, there is flexibility and room to try new things.
The council also appointed 13 members and two alternates to the Community Formation Commission that will guide the creation of a civilian police review system.
The following community members were chosen for the CFC: Christian Alonso, Ana Alicia Zepeda, Gabriel Escobedo, Kim Johnson, Rachel Johnson, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Jacob Lesner-Buxton, Jordan Killibrew, Serafina Chavez, Demo Adamolekun, Mary O’Gorman, Richard Sander and Leandra Harris.
Louisa Wood and Louis Reynaud were selected as the two alternates for the group.