If the new police station were built at the Cota Street Lot as proposed by Santa Barbara’s City Council on September 17, this series of events would unfold:
• First, the police will remain in a seismically unsafe and functionally difficult work environment for the next 4-6 years as the new building is constructed.
• They will then be moved into a space directly adjacent to the flood zone — according to the FEMA map on the SB City website — surrounded on three sides by high water in the event of flooding.
• The Farmers Market will be displaced into an uncertain future.
• Low-income housing might be built on top of the contaminated ground of the current police headquarters without remediation.
It is not clear what the good part of this plan is. We must search for an alternative.
The City Council, mayor, and city administrator have a moral and civic obligation to take swift action to move our police into a temporary location that is safe and functional. Many cities have done this, and there are established protocols for doing so.
Once the old police building is empty, it should be torn down and the contaminated ground cleaned up. Rather than being an additional cost, these steps would be necessary. Where the new station is built has no bearing on that necessity.
In fact, a new police department could be built on the existing site with the purchase of adjacent property. This was the plan in 2010 when the City had Redevelopment Agency funding (which was withdrawn by the state). At that time, the Figueroa Street site was sufficient to build a 40,000-square-foot building at a cost of $48.6 million.1 Nine years later, the proposed building size has expanded to 70,850 sq.ft. at a cost of $70 million-$100 million. Why has the size of the proposed police station increased by 77 percent in the last decade while the population of Santa Barbara has grown by only 4 percent?
An Essential Services Building “must be capable of performing its continuous operations during and immediately after any natural disaster,” according to the 2010 study. “It must be built with a 50% increase in seismic Design Forces when compared to a standard office structure.” And, it must “Not (be) Located in a Flood Plain.” (Paul Poirier and Associates, Santa Barbara Police Station Assessment Study, 12/9/2010).
FEMA flood designations around the Cota Street commuter lot changed between 2012 and 2015. The probability of both one percent and 0.2% (100-year and 500-year) flood events have expanded significantly. (City of Santa Barbara FEMA Flood Zone Changes, 2015) The combination of sea-level rise and increased heavy rain events gives a high probability that this trend will continue.
By the time the new police station is built, it is likely to be in an unacceptable risk zone. Look at the hydrology data for Lot 11 and the Cota lot; they are the same. Historical data shows a water table ranging from 5 feet above ground level to 10 feet below surface at both lots. (City of Santa Barbara, Evaluation of Potential Sites, Site Criteria Checklist) But Lot 11 was deemed unacceptable. If seismic safety for Essential Services Buildings must be 50 percent higher than standard structures, why is there not a higher standard with regards to flood hazard?
The City of Santa Barbara is asking approximately $1,000 in taxpayer dollars from each Santa Barbara resident for this project. Yes, the new police station is much needed. The decision on where to place the building, however, will have long-lasting repercussions on the fabric of our community, both in terms of the future survival of the Saturday Farmers Market and on the long-term functionality of the Police Department itself.
Moving the police to a safe and functional temporary location will allow time to reconsider this process and make sure that the final decision is one that has full support from the community.
Noey Turk is a board member of the Santa Barbara Farmers Market.