A week ago on Saturday, I arrived at the Farmers Market and found it abuzz with the news that the City of Santa Barbara was planning to build the new police headquarters in the parking lot that has been the market’s home for 35 years. I felt blindsided.
So apparently was Sam Edelman, general manager of the S.B. Certified Farmers Market Association, as were the directors of the association’s board, and all the farmers and regular customers. Edelman had first been informed of the city’s intention to evict the market on October 13, less than three weeks before.
On Monday I spoke with Brad Hess, head planner in charge of identifying a suitable new site for the Police Department. What it boiled down to, said Hess, was that the Louise Lowry Davis Center and the Farmers Market parking lot were the only two feasible locations. A conversation with Edelman confirmed what I feared, that the Davis Center wouldn’t be seriously considered due to its status as a donated park and historical structure.
A community meeting was set for that Wednesday at the Central Public Library. I went, expecting a panel of officials ready to take questions from the community, with time for public comments. What I found was entirely different. No seating, and no panel there to answer questions. Instead were five easels arrayed around the room, show-and-tell style, with a few city planners, a city financial officer, the architect in charge of the police building design, the new police chief, and a few police officers milling about the room.
Sam Edelman and half-a-dozen farmers were there, along with about 50 community members. City Council representatives Gregg Hart and Kristen Sneddon were present. The mayor was not. What about time for public questions and comments? I asked. The staffer at the check-in table pointed to a stack of postcards. “You can write your comments on these,” she said. I confess my temper flared, and I let this poor young woman know in rather sharp terms what I thought of their so-called community meeting process.
Chief of Police Lori Luhnow spoke first. The gist of her words was that the department had totally outgrown its current facility. In addition to being generally cramped and not up to seismic standards, it only had a single stall in the women’s bathroom. They were committed to a community policing model, she said. She wanted the new police headquarters to include space for people to engage in safe online transactions, and she welcomed other ideas about what to include in the new building.
Next, a senior city planner said she could answer one or two general questions, but to know how and why they arrived at their conclusion, we should talk to the person at each of the easels around the room.
“Is the city going to find a suitable new site for the Farmers Market before going ahead with its plan to take over the current location?” someone asked. “You should go to Station 2 to talk about site questions,” she replied, flustered. “I think we all want to hear the answer to that question,” I said. A general murmur echoed in agreement. Her response: “Well, I know it’s scary when your landlord tells you you’re being evicted, but it’s not the landlord’s job to find you a new place to live.” So much for addressing community concerns.
At Station 2, Brad Hess faced an onslaught of questions. “I am a scientist, and I would like to know what parameters you considered in both selecting and eliminating sites,” asked Stacy Rebich Hespana. “Did you consider not only the economic and practical elements, but also the social ramifications of your selection?” she asked. “Do you have a document you could share with us? I would really like to study it.” Hess said he didn’t, but that he would put one together and post it online.
Morgan Carter stood talking with a police captain. “If you could have any place you want for the new police building, where would that be?” he asked. “The News-Press building would have been ideal,” he said. “Too bad it’s not for sale.” “Everything is for sale except the dog,” I said. “What kind of dog do you have?” Captain Todd asked. Next we were exchanging jokes and doggie pictures. We talked about the pros and cons of having satellite stations in different neighborhoods. All of a sudden, there was dialogue. I was learning a tiny something about what it is like to be a cop. We should do more of this, I thought.
I talked with worried farmers. “When I am at the market, I am working. I am not sure what my customers love about it, what is important to them, why that site works so well,” said one. Tom Shepherd, one of the founders of the Farmers Market, later said: “The phrase that keeps coming up in my mind is due process. There hasn’t been any due process in this decision.”
Kristen Sneddon, my City Council rep was there. “This is not at all what I expected either,” she said of the meeting. “This is not right. I won’t vote for the new site unless we first come up with an acceptable new location for the market. Do you think City Lot 11 would work?”
City Lot 11 is the one located between Cota and Haley streets, State and Anacapa. I felt a surge of hope. Lot 11 is visible from the current market site, kitty-corner to its block. Even a shopper who didn’t know the location had been moved could still find it. It has a walk-through to State Street and the big Ortega Street parking structure next door (City Lot 10).
The shame with the way the relocation of the Santa Barbara Police Department has been handled so far is that the city has missed a huge opportunity to really engage the community. This should not be an adversarial situation. Can you seriously talk about community policing, while jeopardizing the most beloved community meeting place in town, and without giving police officers and local residents a chance to dialogue about needs and challenges, and build trust and support? Is a room for secure online transactions really what the community needs when downtown’s brick and mortar businesses are struggling to survive? How about incorporating safe public bathrooms in the building instead, mental-health resources for the chronically homeless, or a safe shelter for victims of domestic abuse?
Yes, Santa Barbara has grown a lot since the year the police station on Figueroa Street was built, and we all agree the SBPD needs a new home. However, we are still a town small enough to have openness and transparency in our political process. We are also fortunate to have an incredibly talented, resourceful, creative, and wealthy community. The argument that the Farmers Market parking lot is the only empty spot that meets the criteria just doesn’t suffice. More dialogue is needed. More imagination is needed. Because, at the end of the day, it should not be cops versus crops.
A Santa Barbara resident and regular Farmers Market shopper since 1983, Laurence Hauben was executive director of the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market Association from 2003 to 2005. In that capacity, she obtained permission from the Santa Barbara City Council forthe markets to sell not only produce and local seafood, but also meat, dairy, bread, and wine, as well to as to allow food professionals to shop 30 minutes before the markets open to the general public.