In 1994 I was appointed to the City’s Fire and Police Commission and served on it for the next seven years. I was a Deputy Probation Officer in Ventura County, and regularly frequented state of the art, modern Police Headquarters in Oxnard, Ventura, Simi Valley — so I was appalled the first time I toured the Santa Barbara Police Department. Most police stations in modern cities had been transformed into welcoming centers in the heart of a community — with rooms for public meetings, safe spaces for victims and witnesses, close proximity to courts and public safety partners- and working conditions that reflect the demands of the 21st century. Fast forward to 2019, two decades later, and I am personally saddened to see that there is even a question among some in the community that this must be the council’s highest priority.
I urge the city council now to exercise political will and leadership and commit to the Cota Commuter lot as the site of the new police station. It will be years before any officer or community member enters it. But better than waiting another 20 years.
In 1999 I was the Commission’s representative on the effort to pass Measure R 99, the $36.7 million-dollar bond to build a desperately needed Police Station. That proposal would have utilized the parcels surrounding the current building. I presented the department’s arguments at public forums and meetings and canvassed neighborhoods with police officers. Opponents bemoaned the loss of bungalow-style homes on Garden and sense of charm in that immediate vicinity. Others with no criminal justice background or expertise suggested alternatives, e.g. “satellite stations,” “foot patrol,” etc., and sadly, the measure failed.
Ironically, in the ensuing 20 years, a separate project was approved between Figueroa and Anapamu that not only demolishes the “charm” but creates a four-story, 35,000 SF mixed use structure. I raise that fact not to opine on that project, but to emphasize something I learned over the last few decades — nothing stays the same. Whether in the county or the city, on any given Tuesday, what is now “charming” can swiftly be transformed into something that meets the needs of the current demographics and culture- because that is the job of elected officials — making decisions that may not be popular among some but that are essential to the many.
The site of a farmer’s market in a parking lot may be moved with very little of its essence lost. Sadly, in this case what cannot be regained are the decades of poor working conditions that our police employees have endured- diligently, because they are professionals.
I took some time the other night to look back at my news archives at “alternatives” that were studied and priorities that were set, in depth, 20 years ago. The Cota commuter lot was then the first choice after the Garden/Anapamu site, which is no longer available, and exhaustive studies were done of several locations back then.
Please exercise the political will I know that you all have and maintain your selection of the Cota Street commuter lot as the site for the new Police Station and move as swiftly as possible to make that a reality. Three decades of discussion and outreach have ensued; let’s move on to the next phase. I am happy to help, if needed.