The Santa Barbara City Council has voted 4-2 in favor of building a new $80 million police station on the site of the Cota Street Commuter Parking Lot.
Narrowed down from 19 potential sites, the parking lot is close to the city’s main call area, enabling officers to respond quickly to emergencies. Citizens and downtown business owners have protested the selection of the parking lot as the Santa Barbara farmers’ market has been meeting on the site for the past 35 years.
French Press owner Julia Mayer, who has a 20 year lease for her Cota and Anacapa corner location, stated that the farmers market played a large part in her decision to have a downtown storefront. She said that “I’m committed to the health of downtown Santa Barbara, and I want my taxes to be paid downtown.”
Out of all potential police station locations discussed, the Cota lot is the best fit: the site is a walkable distance from the court; it is neither too small nor too big; and it is owned by the city, making it a more affordable option.
Westmont sophomore Isaac Sieblink, who busks weekly at the Cota farmers’ market, stated in an interview that he signed the Change.org petition to preserve the current location. He said that “it’s an inconvenience to move. It’s a good spot for the farmers’ market, and I’d hate to see it go anywhere else.” The petition reached its goal of 500 signatures on Sunday afternoon.
The current police station on Figueroa street, built in 1959, is unsafe in the event of an earthquake, too small for the police department’s needs, and in an unsuitable location. Building a new station has been delayed for almost 30 years — almost as long as the farmers’ market’s existence — due to multiple factors.
Westmont first-year Jenna Peterson is a part-time employee at Recipes Bakery, a small, independently owned business across the street from the farmers’ market. She stated in an interview that building the new police station on the site of the farmers’ market will “take away from our customer base because we get many customers from the farmers’ market on Saturdays.”
She also said that Recipes Bakery purchases food from the farmers’ market every week, and that a different location will be significantly less convenient for both businesses and customers. She understands, however, that the current police station is small, and that the Cota street lot “will give the Santa Barbara police force more room to do their job effectively.”
The current contender for an alternate farmers’ market location is De la Guerra Plaza downtown, a small grassy area next to the Santa Barbara News Press building. Farmers’ market staff have expressed concern regarding De la Guerra Plaza, believing it to inhibit expansion; the market would be unable to include new farmers due to the small size of the plaza. Parking is also limited.
Project manager Brad Hess stated that construction at the Cota lot would likely not begin for two years, giving the market time to find a different location.
Council member Oscar Gutierrez expressed concern that many of the farmers who sell at the market every week are not Santa Barbara residents, and therefore do not rely on the city’s police force. He stated that he doesn’t “think it is appropriate for outside business owners to dictate how a city will support their police.”
The city will be conducting an environmental review of the Cota street lot shortly.