Santa Barbara Police Station
Paul Wellman

What began as a project to renovate the downtown police station’s locker room has turned into talks of tearing the whole place down and rebuilding a new, $46.6 million dollar headquarters after engineers discovered a mess of seismic and code compliance issues — not to mention the presence of lead and asbestos — within the 52-year-old structure. And while officers aren’t marching on city hall as they did in the 1990s to complain about the Figueroa Street station’s shabby, outdated facilities, there are hints that the 200 or so badges based there are becoming increasingly restless.

Santa Barbara police station men's locker room
Paul Wellman

When The Independent toured the city’s Emergency Operations Center set up in the station’s stuffy basement at the height of the Jesusita Fire, staffers not-so-affectionately referred to the room’s jerry-rigged ventilation hoses as “fallopian tubes.” During testimony recently given in the Corey Lyons murder trial, crime scene investigator Mike Ullemeyer admitted he works in a windowless closet.

At Monday’s special meeting, Assistant City Administrator Paul Casey and civil engineer Joshua Haggmark walked members of the City Council through options for renovating or rebuilding the 1.5-acre property, explaining the main factors driving immediate action are: the need to clean up the site’s soil after it was discovered that fuel leaked from old underground tanks sent levels 29,000 times above the acceptable limit, improve the building’s infrastructure so it could withstand a 500-year earthquake, rework its design to comply with the Americans with Disability Act, and install entirely new heating, ventilating, air conditioning, electrical, and plumbing systems.

Council members, who recently toured the building, concurred something needs to be done soon. Calling the guts of the station — which include holding cells, interrogation rooms, a shooting range, and the dispatch center — “embarrassing,” Councilmember Bendy White said it was unnerving to see the “dangerous conditions” inside. Councilmember Dale Francisco said people would be “shocked and ashamed” to learn the sad state of the place.

Inside the Santa Barbara police station
Paul Wellman

Casey and Haggmark spoke of three different possible plans of attack to bring the station up to par, including major work that would last decades. The first would involve completely rehabilitating the station’s main 24,000-square-foot building at a cost of $25.1 million. Option two, at $54.2 million, would renovate the front of the building, tear down and rebuild a larger version of its back part, and add a parking structure. The third possibility — the most popular among city staff and council members — would demolish the existing station and erect a three-story, 40,000-square-foot station with a new parking structure. That’d cost $46.6 million. All the potential price tags, explained Haggmark, include $2.1 million to relocate police personnel and equipment during construction.

The council also heard about a plethora of other public properties that could potentially serve as new station locations, though Police Chief Cam Sanchez mentioned he and his team are perfectly happy where they are now as the headquarters is so centrally located within the city and near the courthouse. Casey and Haggmark brought up the commuter lot at 119 East Cota Street (home to Saturday’s Farmers Market), the city’s offices on the 600 block of Laguna Street, the vacant lot at 125 Calle César Chávez, as well as a number of other parking lots around town.

Staff also discussed the option of relocating the police — either temporarily or permanently — to the historic downtown post office, which will soon be up for sale. But, Casey noted, parking is limited and the front room’s mail service might need to remain operational. Chief Sanchez said he wasn’t a fan of that option, taking issue with his department occupying a space that received thousands of packages on a weekly basis. Casey also relayed that, after speaking with Radius Group representatives, it seems the city couldn’t get much for the current police station if they decided to sell the property, though the lot itself is worth $5-$7 million.

Police cars line the side of Santa Barbara's downtown police station
Paul Wellman

How the city would pay tens of millions of dollars for such a project — no matter what form it takes — was mulled over by staff and councilmembers at the end of the two-hour meeting. While there’s $7 million in Redevelopment Agency (RA) funds earmarked for the work, the source of capital project funds is itself in jeopardy after California Governor Jerry Brown recently announced that he may eliminate RAs statewide.

Casey brought up the possibility for certificate of participation bonds — which would mean scraping $4 million out of the General Fund operating budget — as well as a number of funding streams that would require voter approval, including a general obligation bond or a sales, transient occupancy, or utilities user tax. The ghost of Sheriff Brown’s proposed half-cent sales tax for a new North County jail, which earned less than 40 percent approval at the polls in November, hung over this part of the conversation as all councilmembers agreed it’d be prudent to conduct serious public outreach to educate people how badly a new police station is needed before taking it to a vote.

No formal decisions were made, but councilmembers talked about convening a special subcommittee on the topic, and city staff said they’d put together a more concrete action plan to present to the council later.


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