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Questions & AnswersPublic Works

Why is the City working on a new police station?

The existing police station was built in 1959 and is outdated, too small, inefficient, and has never been earthquake retrofitted (as required by California’s Essential Services Building Seismic Safety Act of 1986). In fact, due to the inadequacies of the current police station, it takes four separate buildings to house all the police operations. In 2017, Santa Barbara voters passed Measure C. The City Council voted to make a new police station one of the main Measure C improvement projects.

What’s the process for creating a new police station?

Building Needs

Architects that specialize in police stations (MWL) were hired along with local architects (Cearnal Collective) to determine the building specifications that fit Santa Barbara and the needs of our officers.

The technical architect confirmed the current and predicted needs of a new police station (also studied in 2011) to combine operations from four separate buildings into one, well-functioning station.

A Site Criteria checklist was created based on the conclusions of the programming data.

Site Selection

City staff began looking at available City-owned properties and non-City-owned properties that might be suitable based on size and availability.

In September 2019, City Council reviewed 18 potential sites (and a no project option) and the preliminary environmental review of those sites. Council selected a preferred site and 4 sites as alternatives to begin the environmental review process.

Building Design

After site selection is was made to begin the environmental review, project architects began preliminary drawings for the new police station at the preferred site. The Environmental Review requires 30% drawings to evaluate any potentially significant impacts.

Building design will continue and a joint concept review will occur with the City’s Architectural Review Board (ABR) will hold a concept hearing, followed soon after by a concept hearing for the Planning Commission.

Environmental Review

Following Council designation of a the preferred site alternative for environmental review under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provisions, an environmental Initial Study will be prepared to determine the type of CEQA environmental document required. If a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) is required, the environmental review process is estimated to take several months and will include day public review period with possible hearing on the draft MND, and the preparation of the final MND.  If an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is required, the environmental review process is estimated to take up to a year and will include a 30-day public scoping period and hearing, preparing a draft focused or full EIR for 45-day public review period with hearing, and then preparing and certifying the final environmental report.

Project Approval

The overall project will go in front of the Planning Commission for project review and approval.

What are the main sites being studied?

  • Cota Street Commuter Lot (on Santa Barbara and Cota Streets)Cota Street Commuter Lot (on Santa Barbara and Cota Streets) with a portion of the Employment Development Department parking
    See Site Selection page for more details
  • Vacant Sears building at La Cumbre Plaza
  • Four acres of Earl Warren Showgrounds
  • Louise Lowry Davis Center (on Victoria Street)

What are the main site considerations for the new police station?

Size, secure parking for officers and staff, located within the high volume call area, zoning, height limits, access – for officers and the public, proximity to the courthouse, and existing site conflicts.

Are there any sites that don’t have conflicts with existing uses?

No, all the sites considered have conflicts of some kind. Many of the sites that are large enough also happen to be in the flood zone, are not for sale, or are being used by other entities. Some of the sites are not located in the high call area. Most of the sites being considered have existing uses that need to be addressed if the new police station is located there.

Can we reuse the existing police department building for the new station?

The existing main police department building is too small, and operations currently flow over into four separate buildings. The existing lot is also too small. Another issue in trying to use the existing location is that a secure, temporary location to house police department operations would have to be found or constructed. If a space could be found, this could add $6 million to $8 million for a 2+ year, temporary police station. These costs would be in addition to the cost to build a new police station.

Which site appears to have the fewest conflicts with existing uses?

Based solely on initial criteria, the Cota Street Commuter Lot potentially has the fewest conflicts with existing uses while having sufficient functionality for a new police station. Before a decision could be made by City Council, City staff needed to complete a preliminary environmental review of the sites under consideration.

An initial review indicated that the Cota Street Commuter Lot has a size that fits, can accommodate staff parking, has the building height limits needed, is within the high call area, and has good proximity to the courthouse. It does have conflicts with the current uses of commuter parking and the Saturday’s Farmers’ Market. City staff are in discussions with the Farmers’ Market about what their market needs to be successful and other locations that could work for the Saturday Farmers’ Market similar to the markets on other days. Those discussions, as well as other parking locations for commuters, will continue.

How long will this process take?

Any new building in Santa Barbara takes a few years. The new police station will go through the City’s regular environmental, design, and permitting processes. A new station could be ready to begin construction sometime in 2022. Construction is estimated at two and a half years.

Why doesn’t the City build substations instead?

According to the City’s technical architect, who has experience building over 300 police stations throughout the United States, substation designs make sense if communities meet two criteria:

  • the community is large enough to warrant the need for a greater coverage area than a single station can serve, or
  •  if there is a geographical feature, such as a river or mountain, that separates the community such that if a natural disaster should occur it would be important to have police presence in all areas of the community.

Santa Barbara does not meet either of these conditions, so a single police station fits our needs.

Substations are also inherently inefficient because they require redundant support and administrative services at more than one location. The redundancies add to the long-term costs for residents.


Last Updated: Oct 5, 2020
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