Anna Marie Gott
On Tuesday, Mayor Cathy Murillo and City Council members Eric Friedman, Oscar Gutierrez and Meagan Harmon voted to choose the Cota commuter parking lot as their preferred choice for the city’s new police station. They voted to endanger the livelihoods of 100-plus farmers who participate in the city’s 35-year-old farmers’ market — who recounted devastating effects on farmers when other markets were moved — while they fuss over crazy revitalization schemes for downtown businesses.
They voted to remove 221 needed off-street revenue-generating parking spaces in an area of town that lacks sufficient parking and where high-density housing is planned without sufficient parking. They voted to spend taxpayer money to build a new police station on a sliver of land that will not meet the Police Department’s long-term needs.
The only “winner” in the plan to move the farmers’ market to De La Guerra Plaza, which is unsuitable to host it, was Councilmember Randy Rowse, who recused himself from the vote, but none of the other meetings. Why? His café would financially benefit from the move of the farmers’ market in this seemingly rigged site selection process.
To say that the city’s “selection process” was ludicrous would be an understatement. From the start, it has been clear that city staff wanted the council to choose the 1.6-acre Cota parking lot. Unlike a robust property search for a suitable site with sufficient space, the city’s search primarily involved city- and state-owned properties with few exceptions. This ruled out about 95% of properties in town.
At every step of the way, false options were offered. The top options recommended by staff included the Louise Lowry Davis Center; Spencer Adams Park and1235 Teen Center, which would require a vote of the people and changes to the city’s General Plan and zoning ordinances; the Castillo St. commuter parking lot, which was unsuitable because it was on a one-way street at the entrance to Hwy. 101; a slice of the Earl Warren Showgrounds was placed on the list, which blindsided the board of the state facility, which immediately rejected the idea; and a 4.5-acre slice of the Sears property, which was not only not for sale but estimated to cost $20 million and take at least two years to be designed into a specific plan for La Cumbre Plaza.
The reality is that city staff offered nothing but fallacies dressed up to look like suitable “options.”
A new police station is needed. But is this tiny site suitable for future growth? Tellingly, former Mayor Shelia Lodge stated a mere 16 years after the current police station was built that it could not meet the needs of the Police Department. While no one can predict the exact size needed, we must expect that a larger station will be required, and this site allows no room for growth unless a sixth floor (about 70 feet high) is added, which would require a change to the City Charter and delight developers. Is this why this site is preferred by staff? If history repeats itself, city taxpayers will be on the hook when this “preferred site” cannot meet long-term needs.
Sadly, votes made by council members that lack common sense, critical thinking skills and sound judgment are changing Santa Barbara into something that repels locals. One day, the changes that strip Santa Barbara of its charm will repel tourists. When that happens, where will Santa Barbara be with its massive debts based on these poor choices?