With construction expected to start in 2024, market eyes move to location a few blocks away
When the city council decided it was high time the city move ahead with plans to build a new building to house the Santa Barbara Police Department, everyone agreed on one thing: It was a great idea!
The current station was operating under deplorable conditions. For one thing it was way overcrowded. The building, designed to hold 60-80 police employees, including officers, was bursting at the seams, with more than 200 people, more than three times the original number.
Then there were the low ceilings, the water spots staining the carpet, the electrical cords hanging down from the ceiling and the windowless room in the basement, where dispatch worked before they were moved to better quarters. And it still contains asbestos.
Mayor Randy Rowse told the News-Press that he took several tours of the station and its annex. “I got the heebie-jeebies going downstairs,” he said, noting he sometimes found himself nearly banging his head against the ceiling. “There were four detectives in one room too small for furniture. They had to put their backpacks in the corner.”
“It’s a woefully inadequate building, not up to modern standards when it comes to safety,” he said. “And it’s not up to earthquake standards for essential buildings. It needs to be still standing when everything else falls down.
“There are millions of reasons why it needs to be done. And it doesn’t hurt in terms of overall morale and esprit de corps.”
Police Chief Marylinda Arroyo, who has worked in the department for nearly three decades, continued the litany of problems.
“The people who work at the police department do so every day, coming into a building that was built in the ’50s,” she told the News-Press. “The first floor (basement) contains no restroom facilities outside of the current male locker rooms. The second floor has public restrooms in the lobby, yet very limited facilities for employees.
“A person needing handicap access to the main floor must come into the building from the side door, as the front interior doors are not wide enough to accommodate wheelchair access. The only way to get to the third floor is via stairs, and there is only a very small one-person-only elevator. That elevator only helps with access to or from the basement or first floor only.
“Police services are currently spread across four separate buildings, and the main building has people working out of what was constructed as closets. Parking is extremely limited for personnel as well as the public. There are leaks, cracks, old pipes and constant breaker tripping in the electrical system.”
The station, she said, “is not made for 2022 operations.”
So yes, everyone agreed the time had come to build a modern facility designed for the 21st century.
There was just one problem. What to do with the Saturday Farmer’s Market, inconveniently located at the very spot where the city plans to build the new police station: a commuter lot at Cota and Santa Barbara streets.
Where would they go? When would they go? What was going to happen to the market, relied on by so many residents eager to buy locally grown produce?
Councilmembers, speaking at the July 19 meeting when they gave the go-ahead to fund continued architectural and design services for the new station, recalled overflowing crowds of Farmer’s Market supporters flooding council chambers, demanding answers.
“We really stressed the importance of the Farmer’s Market to the community, and how special the location is, and how many customers come out on a regular basis,” Sam Edelman, manager of the Farmer’s Market, told the News-Press.
On average, the Saturday market attracts about 6,000 people per week, he said. In the summer, 95-plus farmers participate, while the number drops to about 80 in the winter.
So city officials got to work to look for alternate sites for the farmers’s market to relocate.
The council formed a Farmers Market Committee, consisting of Councilmembers Kristen Sneddon, Meagan Harmon and Eric Friedman, who were tasked to find a more feasible location if and when the Farmers Market was forced to relocate.
Meanwhile, the Farmers Market’s board of directors reviewed 15 possible sites, “which proved inadequate for the size and scope of our operation,” Mr. Edelman said. They narrowed it down to one site capable of hosting an operation of this magnitude: State and Carrillo streets, just five blocks away.
Apparently the new location was close enough to ease residents’ concerns, enough so that attention returned to building the new police station.
Councilmembers voted to award a $4.5 million contract for continued architectural and design services to Cearnal Collective, the company hired to build the new 53-foot-tall, 64,000-square-foot police station.
“Our team has spent countless hours in the current police station, evaluating their current conditions and interviewing the entire department, from the chief on down,” architect Brian Cearnal told the News-Press.
“The working conditions are woefully inadequate for a modern police department. They are split up into three separate locations, depriving necessary interaction and communication among staff and direct contact between 911 call center and officers. And yes, it is overcrowded without any room for growth. There is a lack of natural light and it is inadequate as to seismic safety, accessibility and equal access.”
He said the planning process will be complete, hopefully, after their Aug. 11 Planning Commision meeting.
“We have been working on the project since 2018, evaluating various site options, then refining the design on the Cota site, working through the design with ABR and the community, and finally doing the environmental review,” he said. “We will be working on the detailed design and construction documents for the next year, then obtaining a building permit, bidding the project, and selecting a contractor. Hopefully construction will begin in 18 months and construction will take another 18 months.”
Construction is expected to begin sometime in 2024.
Mr. Cearnal noted the highlights of the new station that will be built.
“First and foremost, the police department will all be in one place, downtown, with adequate parking for the fleet and the staff. The new building is designed to meet the needs of the department well into the future within a flexible shell that can adapt over time. It is also being designed as a ‘Net Zero Carbon’ building to the highest level of sustainability.
“The space has been carefully planned to facilitate communication and inclusivity with work spaces full of light. It will have a beautiful and welcoming public lobby that connects to a community meeting room.”
The new station will unify dispatch with staff and officers going out on patrol. There will be a practice firing range in the basement, a second-floor meeting room that can be used by multiple city agencies and the public, a single unisex locker room for all officers and employees to use, a “fantastic” fitness facility with outdoor deck and a lounge for police officers complete with outdoor dining space.
Investigations and a crime lab will be on the third floor, as well the police chief’s office.
“I honestly believe this building will create an environment that will make a huge difference in the morale of the department and the attitude of our community towards its police,” Mr. Cearnal said. “Our team is so proud to be a part.”
Mayor Rowse said he’s especially pleased with plans to build an adjacent parking structure to accommodate 236 parking spaces, with 128 spaces for police department fleet vehicles and 108 spaces for employee vehicles. He called this crucial, because officers need ready access to their cars in order to respond quickly to active crime scenes.
Chief Arroyo said her department can’t wait for the new station to open. “The employees are very much looking forward to a new building and optimistic that it will be done quickly,” she said.
As for the Farmer’s Market, “they will be able to remain at least until construction commences,” Mr. Cearnal said.
Mr. Edelman said a “significant amount of planning” will be needed ahead of the market’s moving date. “It’s a major, major operation,” he said.
To date, the new site has undergone a preliminary review by city staff, “and it seems like a feasible location,” Mr. Edelman said. It still has to go before the Planning Commission and City Council, he said. Local merchants and businesses in the area will be consulted.
The new site, he said, will be close to the same size as the current location, Mr. Edelman said.
“We’re hopeful the community will follow us wherever we go, and will sustain us at that location.”
Added Mayor Rowse, “We recognize the farmer’s market as part of the cultural fabric, and we want them to succeed and survive. People consider it part of their lifestyle. We’ve got to make sure we keep them.”