The Santa Barbara City Planning Commission held an Environmental Scoping Hearing to hear a report and public comments on the potential effects of the Plaza de la Guerra Infrastructure Improvement Project last Thursday.

The $2.2 million project aims to improve the plaza’s functionality and includes lowering the lawn area, expanding and repaving the sidewalks, upgrading the area’s utility and drainage systems and relocating the flagpoles from the center of the lawn to its outer edges. The Planning Commission will accept public comments on the Environmental Impact Report until Oct. 3.

According to City Associate Planner Kathleen Kennedy, the primary concerns of the revitalization involve circulation problems with traffic flow and the safety of a historical pepper tree.

“The objective of the plan is to improve the plaza while maintaining its character and provide the safe interaction between pedestrians and vehicles,” Kennedy said. “Further study in the form of a second phase Environmental Impact Report is required to analyze the potential archaeological, historical and ethnic components of the project.”

Several community members also voiced concerns for the development’s environmental impact during the hearing.

Santa Barbara resident Kevin DeForest said the current layout threatens to alter parts of the site’s historical architecture.

“Everyone’s had ideas for the space … one time there was an idea of converting the whole thing into a parking lot — something I’m sure nobody wants,” DeForest said. “The primary concern for me is what impact, historically, the removal of the curbing in the plaza has … the curbing dates to 1923 and may have existed even before, around the original courthouse.”

Additionally, local artist Gary Chay said the mitigation measures fail to address the entirety of the space’s natural resources.

“It’s disturbing to see improvements to the plaza that aren’t taking into scope what it is,” Chay said. “For example, the removal of the palm trees — who’s speaking for the trees? I think it is a mistake.”

According to Santa Barbara resident Ethan Shankman, alternative construction proposals could make better use of the location.

“I believe it broadcasts a negative image for our guests that we partition this venue with stakes and only the crows are seen to benefit from the space,” Shankman said. “We need to open this venue for the community and tourists alike during peak of weather season for quality of life purposes and environmental reasons.”

Shankman said the relocation of the flagpoles undermines the plaza’s symbolic importance for the community.

“[M]oving this national symbol of liberty, freedom and prosperity to the side sends a confusing image to current and future generations as to the significance of our civic format,” Shankman said. “No money should be paid that would move our flag and otherwise minimize, obstruct or ruin a sacred arena, held dear by locals, that doesn’t require anything more than minor improvements and management.”

Individuals can send their input and comments to the Planning Commission office at 123 E. Anapamu St., Santa Barbara, or to