In a rare outburst of unanimity, the Santa Barbara City Council affirmed that building a new police station ranked as the city’s most pressing infrastructure need and took tentative steps toward placing a ballot measure before city voters, perhaps as soon as next November, to help finance a project expected to cost roughly $50 million. According to recent seismic analysis, the existing station, built in 1959, could not function in the wake of a powerful earthquake. An ad hoc subcommittee of councilmembers concluded it was possible to seismically retrofit the existing station, but that the attendant loss of space for an already cramped warren of offices made no sense. A simple plan to fix the air conditioning and heating system, for example, ballooned from the initial estimate of $2 million to $25 million when all new building-code requirements were factored in. Likewise, members of the subcommittee — Randy Rowse, Bendy White, and Michael Self — ruled out the construction, or rental, of police substations as financially and logistically infeasible.
The $50-million question, of course, is where the money comes from. The subcommittee has recommended using the $7 million already earmarked for station modernization and snatching $13 million earmarked by the Redevelopment Agency from future years. Armed with that $20 million, City Hall would then approach the voters with a $30-million bond proposal. This presumes that in the meantime, the State Legislature and Governor Jerry Brown do not abolish redevelopment agencies throughout California, as they have threatened to do. It also presumes voters might go along with such a plan. Most, but not all, ballot finance schemes require a two-thirds majority. In the meantime, City Hall is trying to find a new location for the Emergency Service Dispatch Center, which is in the basement of the police station.