Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Conspiracy Theory 101: De la Guerra Plaza Saga Continues...

Like any good conspiracy theory, the News-Press assuming that everyone is biased against them relies on a specific world view that may or may not be correct. I did some research into this issue after hearing that David Pritchett, David Tabor, the Mayor and others are redesigning DLG Plaza to actually harm the News-Press and put up blockades between City Hall and Travis Armstrong. The fact that the redesign efforts precede the News-Press Mess seems to be conveniently forgotten.

There is a political scientist named Graham Allison who developed an interesting argument about what is rational in Essence of Decision. He named his theory the "rationality theorem". Below is a synopsis from a Wikipedia entry as I had read about this theory elsewhere sometime ago.

The theory says that many theories rely on there being rational expectations and responses from both groups and individuals. The problem is that we don't always act in a rational manner and he argued that many people automatically take a "black box" approach to problems that fail to take into account factors not normally present such as bureaucracy, disagreements, environmental factors, etc. Further, he argues that rational thinking can violate the scientific law of falsifiability that "there exists no event or groups of events that cannot be explained in a rational and purposeful manner".

I realize that using the phrase "conspiracy theory" itself can be construed to disregard the actual topic. The City of Santa Barbara may or may not have violated the Brown Act but as Mayor Blum notes it is perfectly normal for a commissioner to give a report that is not on the agenda. It is up to the Chair of the committee as far as I am concerned to reign them in if there is a decision that could be made from that discussion.

My concern is that the News-Press is taking the "black box" approach by saying that their enemies are against them and presupposes that their intentions are not separate from their political views. Quite the opposite, I contend that historical preservation and planning guidelines that seek public spaces can and should be distinct from, in this case, the News-Press Mess.

This suit occurs to be subterfuge in that it fails to address what is best for the plaza and the fact that there are other places for people to park (the city lot, street parking and even the News-Press' own rather empty lot)-- not to mention that these are public parking spaces also used for City Hall, Starbucks and other restaurants and stores nearby. To the point, these spots do not belong to Ampersand Publishing. Concerns about activists such as David Pritchett fail to acknowledge that a better staging area would be great for community events like Old Spanish Days and therefore great for business -- even for the News-Press.

Small 'd' democracy means that we all get to have our say on this before the decision is made -- even the News-Press. The fact that attorney's fees are asked to be recovered may be a normal proviso -- but I also have to wonder whether the News-Press' war of attrition which seeks retribution of their enemies Caligula-style, may have a significant role in their opposition of the plaza redesign. A five minute "report" versus a lawsuit and scores of negative articles and editorials? I think the News-Press has had a larger influence on the process than they contend.

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Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

Sara: Thanks for reconsidering the Plaza! In light of the Newsupress' latest rant and Barry, the Hammer's, legal blast, the eye and mind of the public process, can only wonder about why the Newsupress takes this approach.

I have little or no expertise in the psychology of this issue that you are discussing in your posting Sara. But I can add something to your query. In discussing this matter, I can show you how the process has been working its way along as things do in Santa Barbara, and the Campbell Plaza proposition is not, as Travis would have us believe, "grandious"...

Let me take you back to 1999, long before Wendy was driving the Newsupress bus. The Plaza architectural plan that was then front and center, after a year long discussion with an exhibit of all the plans ever discussed and the history of Plaza all mounted and revealed in the Casa and a public response of turn away crowds;there was also a symposium in City Hall filled to overflowing with Preservationists, the community, and Plaza experts from around the country (a recording of that still exists, and a publication was printed that documented all this information for the Public. (This is the book, that people refer to in this community conversation about the Plaza--I was responsible for it).

Here then are some elements that have dropped out of the discussion and yet were much discussed in 1999.

1. The Plaza, up into the 1930s, had an adobe which sat right where the present City Council parks their cars between City Hall and the Newspress on the eastern side of the Plaza. The 1999 plan considered rebuilding this adobe with the help of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (our local experts on adobe construction). It was planned that this building would be turned over to perhaps the Art Commission for offices and a gallery because it once had a large beautifully decorated Mexican SALA, much like the Casa de la Guerra's SALA in size. It would have been a great space for exhibits. I liked the idea. But that's gone.

2. Second, on the issue of Parking. It was planned that behind the Harmer Adobe which was proposed to be rebuilt, would be constructed a two story parking structure and GET THIS, if the Newspress would go along with the idea, include their parking lot area, thus easily doubling the total number of parking slots in this area. If you study the Downtown Parking Map of Santa Barbara, you will see that this proposed parking structure would fill-in a gap in the existing locations of lots. Hey, I thought it was a great idea and would make positive revenue for the City's parking coffers not to mention the convenience for business, City Hall and Plaza users.

But this part of the idea is gone too. So the community has been simplifying as we go along.

3.De la Guerra street is not being closed to traffic. There was earlier some discussion of that, BUT THAT IS GONE! In addition, parking is being substantially increased with diagonal parking on De la Guerra street to help Rickard's Orena Adobe and his De la Guerra adobe at the corner of De la Guerra Street and Anacapa.

4.There was a fourth idea. And that was to open up a walkway into El Paseo on the western side of the Casa de la Guerra that would resemble the architect Craig's magnificent "Street of Spain"that we all love. It would be called "Street of Mexico". It was felt that this new pedestrian access into El Paseo would substantially help business's there. Connectivity would be substanitally increased to the Plaza and El Paseo.

So there are four major improvements to the Plaza de la Guerra plan that have been dropped since 1999. You see, the Newspress has had an impact. We have a much simpler and more inexpensive plan. But a good improvement from what presently exists.

Now the Newsuppress wants to scuttle even this simplified plan and keep the status quo which is poor infrastructure for community events, crumbling sidewalks, and a vast parking lot for SUV's, cars and trucks that endlessly turn around the loop hoping to find a parking space that isn't there. It's becoming a very sad tale.

3/01/2008 7:45 AM  
Anonymous xyz said...

Bizarre. I don't know what you're writing about. What Brown Act possible violation, why? What have Pritchett/Blum/Tabor done or not done? Where did you hear about the barricades theoretically put up by them or was it just gossip?

". It is up to the Chair of the committee as far as I am concerned to reign them in if there is a decision that could be made from that discussion." What Chair, what committee? Reign in whom?

"This suit" - has there been a lawsuit filed? If so, against whom? What and when was the "five minute report"?

How can anyone (other, maybe, than those mentioned) reasonably comment on this post?!

No disrespect intended — I do appreciate your work here — but there are at least some of us who have given up their NP subscriptions, do read the DS, read the Indy on Thursdays, but apparently are not getting enough info and still need some facts to go with the opinions!

...I guess I should resubscribe to the NP if there is all this "news" that is apparent to others on which you're commenting. As for the "black box" approach, I am beginning to think that the NP has a point: that those who oppose it politically, on planning issues, for example, are often the same as those who oppose it on other grounds. As one who has been supportive of press freedom (and as a ticket-buying holder to next Friday's McCaw movie) I find this disturbing....

3/01/2008 9:22 AM  
Blogger Sara De la Guerra said...

xyz -- there is a great deal of discussion on the article in the previous post a couple down from this one on the main page -- about DLG Plaza. I could have made that more clear! Thanks.

3/01/2008 9:54 AM  
Anonymous xyz said...

Thanks. I had not read all the prior posts.

I am concerned at the blanket opposition to anything the NP writes because of what it did to the staff. The paper refuses to take to heart the truism that one gets more flies, wins more friends, with honey rather than vinegar. Nevertheless, they editorially often have valid editorial points, points worth at least hearing, thinking about. It's disheartening to see both sides of this issue ranting in the same way.

As for delaGuerra Plaza, yes, it could be improved. I wonder whether the proponents of the improvements have made efforts (and repeated efforts will be needed in this polarized environment) to talk with Ampersand and Wendy McCaw?

Thanks for DJdlG for his explanation. As an ordinary resident of SB who does use that turnaround for parking when lucky enough (and not infrequently) to find a space to go to City Hall for brief visits, who does go to the Fiesta booths there (the only Fiesta things we attend), who does see it as gathering place for the homeless (and doesn't want to make it even more so) I do appreciate how improvements could be done, but limited ones.....

3/01/2008 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Don Jose de la Guerra y Noriega said...

xyz: Good afternoon. That's a fine response.

The main issue you bring up is whether or not we might talk with Wendy McCaw. Good idea.

Of course, when Wendy first came to the Newspress quite a while ago, I was very eager and excited to go and talk to her about the Plaza and its history, much as I had talked to Steve Ainsley who formally ran the Newspress for the NY Times, and before that with Charles Storke, just as I talked to many others on the staff of the Newspress who were practically all interested in the Plaza. After all, the staff practically lived there.

You know xyz, I researched many of my Plaza photos and old stories out of the Newspress archives. Sue DeLapa was a great help. I never once had the feeling that the Newspress was, how shall I say it, uncooperative. Let's say it, they were cooperative.

But Wendy didn't want to talk to me, she had Joe Cole for communication. And though we talked and he came to public meetings, his hand was not his hand but that of Wendy's--who I must admit, I always felt all through this struggle for a better Plaza, that somehow one day she would somehow understand, if I could just talk to her. Hope springs eternal. But alas, she wouldn't talk to me.

I am always ready to talk. And I hasten to add, I am not a former journalist of the Newspress and have no axe to grind on that matter except for what I learned as a citizen. I've already expressed myself here about that.

I would still love to talk to Wendy. I would love to hear what she has to say about the Plaza. I have heard she studied history! I know she's interested in preservation. We have a lot in common! Might make for a good conversation. I could learn from her as I have learned from you and so many others. I am always seeking to understand, take those things I learn into account and improve the plan, if they make sense.

I would say, now that I am thinking about it, that there was one person inside the Newspress who did a lot of harm to the Plaza. And that was Barney Bratingham. In his imitative voice of Studs Terkel, this impersonation of his (which he would do once a week for the Newspress), would of course often berate City Hall. What's more natural than that for a man with populist credentials and a populist mind?

One particular whipping boy, Barney liked to pull out when gossip was slow was to parade around the King Carlos statue given to us by the King of Spain, and another was the goings-on in Storke Placita. He could always get a rise out of his readers with that.

Barney Bratingham often used the Placita and King Carlos for the laugh lines in his repetitious column. The two things you could always count on in a Barney column were perky populist know nothings, with his old Valiant automobile for decor, and his snide remarks about King Carlos.

This long term abuse led to community disrespect.

I alway thought of these remarks as signs of ignorance. But now that I think about it, I think Barney bred negativity for the Plaza, not to mention bad feelings for the fine statue of King Carlos--who after all, was King Carlos, the King of Spain and the King of Santa Barbara when we were founded. Nothing is more normal, than historic statues in Plazas. But not for Barney.

He doesn't like the Presidio either.

But Barney's been at it now for so long that he's a community icon. Like the old man who used to wave at drivers as they passed by on 101 in Laguna Beach, Barney just keeps on going.

Now, I am not interested in getting rid of Barney, Barney's OK, I don't want to, "Throw the baby out with the bathwater" but I do think he did us no good on some of these Plaza issues. He's changed his tune on the USS Ronald Reagan now. Good for him. Maybe he'll come around with respect for the Plaza and even King Carlos. Oh, yes, he still writes about the tacos at the food booths on the Plaza at Fiesta. The same riffs just go on and on.

3/01/2008 3:16 PM  
Anonymous bobsmyuncle said...

Barney will never have a statue of his likeness on public display. He should not be compared to Eiler Larsen, the "Greeter" of Laguna Beach who was a kind gentle man effusing good will to all who passed.

3/03/2008 7:43 PM  
Anonymous no name said...

It's so very obvious that the childish City Council is only doing this to punish the News Press that even a child could see it.

3/03/2008 8:00 PM  
Blogger jqb said...

Some of us are more mature, informed, and reasoned than a child, and thus can go beyond a child's view, which is often inaccurate.

3/08/2008 5:04 PM  

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