The Cota Street Parking lot, home to Santa Barbara’s Saturday Farmers Market for more than 20 years, is the best site for the city’s new police station, members of the city’s Planning Commission recommended on Thursday afternoon. “We thought the Cota Street lot was the best site,” said Planning Commissioner Sheila Lodge, who said she’s been a regular at the Farmers Market since the day it started. “We also stressed the absolute importance of the city doing everything it could possibly do to assure the success of the market wherever it moves.” Lodge described the current police station as “a disaster waiting to happen,” noting that studies showing the need for a new station date back to the days when she was mayor back in the 1980s.
The police station was built in 1959 to accommodate 85 people. The department has since expanded to 220. Its current address on East Figueroa is not big enough, nor is the number of parking spaces, said Brad Hess, the city’s project planner assigned to get the new station house located and approved.
The Planning Commission’s recommendation is hardly the last word in what could likely become a prolonged civic discussion, and Thursday’s was only a recommendation, not the deciding vote. But only one person representing himself as a Famers Market vendor spoke on Thursday, and he expressed support for the proposal.
Anna Marie Gott, a City Hall watchdog, suggested city planners look at locating the new police station on city-owned property by the Municipal Golf Course on Las Positas Road. Planning Commission Chair Leslie Wiscomb suggested that such a move would incite an uprising by the city’s legion of golfers, of whom, she added, there were far more than there were lawn bowlers.
Lawn bowlers have already risen up in opposition to the possibility of locating the police station by the city’s lawn-bowling courts located next to the Louise Lowry Davis Center on Victoria Street between De la Vina and Chapala streets. Because the lawn-bowling site had been originally donated to the city’s Parks Department by a private individual, it would require a popular vote to change that use. That requirement was sufficient to kill the idea of the lawn-bowling site.
While there are two more public hearings scheduled in the coming weeks to discuss possible sites, there really are no alternatives to the Cota Street site on the table. The city’s Parks Department structures on Laguna Street were considered, but because they’re in a floodplain, they were disqualified. The commuter parking lot by Castillo and Carrillo streets were considered as well, but quickly discarded because of congestion, circulation, and access issues.
In years past, there’d been talk of creating neighborhood substations, satellite structures that could absorb many of the bodies and functions that now can’t fit in the main station house. Commissioner Lodge said that approach would be too expensive. “And where would you put everyone while construction was going on?” she asked.
Lodge and Hess said City Hall sought to explore the possibility of locating the new police station on the Anacapa Street parking lot owned by the Santa Barbara News-Press, but that calls to the owner of the daily paper, Wendy P. McCaw, went unanswered.
The Cota Street Lot is currently heavily used as a commuter parking lot during the week. It generates about $300,000 a year in parking fees, about three times more than any other lot. Those commuters, like the Farmers Market, would be displaced by the move. Lodge suggested that Lot 10 — located behind Dargans — is often parked well below capacity and could handle the capacity.
Finding new space for the Farmers Market, she said, would be more of a challenge. Initially, there was thought of operating the market on State Street, as the market does on Tuesday evenings. Because the Saturday market is so much bigger than Tuesday’s, Lodge said, it would require eight blocks. Lodge suggested other parking lots in the area could be cannibalized to accommodate the Saturday Farmers Market. That conversation, however, has yet to be had, and given the popularity of the event, it promises to be intense and passionate.
Correction: After this story was first posted, the Independent learned the Farmers Market had not hired legal counsel or planners, which the original version stated it had.