New Police Station Could Displace Downtown Fixtures

Lawn Bowlers, Farmers Dispute Proposed Locations

Longtime lawn bowlers have protested their potential displacement if the city opts to locate a new police department at its downtown location.

Paul Wellman

Longtime lawn bowlers have protested their potential displacement if the city opts to locate a new police department at its downtown location.

In deciding where to build the city’s new police station, Santa Barbara officials now find themselves caught between a gentle mob of lawn bowlers and an angry group of area farmers. Planner Brad Hess informed the Parks and Recreation Commission last Wednesday that, after months of careful deliberation, the city had narrowed down its list of potential sites to two locations: the block of city property encompassing the Louise Lowry Davis Center; the Teen Center; and Spencer Adams Park, where the Santa Barbara Lawn Bowls Club is headquartered; and the Cota Street commuter lot, where the Saturday Farmers Market is held.

Hess said the city had studied but eliminated from consideration the Carrillo Street commuter lot because of access issues, as well as its Laguna Street office campus because of its location in a flood zone. The station’s current location is too small. Hess said a number of properties not already owned by the city — including Earl Warren Showgrounds, the News-Press building, the downtown post office, and others — were also vetted but ruled out for various reasons. Police brass have requested the new station include 70,000 square feet of floor space, 252 parking spaces for officers and staff, and 80 parking spaces for the public. It will cost upward of $80 million to build. Hess explained that for the park to be repurposed, it would require a vote by city residents in next year’s November election.

In their courteous but insistent way, members of the Lawn Bowls Club spoke against the demolition of their beloved clubhouse and park, gifted to the city for $15,000 by Spencer Adams, a retired Chicago attorney, 81 years ago. “This area is a very special place,” said Sharon Adams of the cluster of buildings along De la Vina Street surrounded by apartment complexes and commercial spaces. “Teenagers hang out at the Teen Center. Seniors play games and eat free lunches at the [Louise Lowry Davis Center]. Special Olympics athletes practice bocce under the shade of the Moreton Bay fig tree.” Club president Janet Napier called the grassy park an “oasis of fresh air and exercise” in a part of town with few green patches and said she was “horrified” the neighborhood might lose it.

At the hearing, Hess was asked by commission members if or how the displaced facilities’ services might be replaced elsewhere. He said the city would commit to “mitigating as many of the impacts as possible.” That answer didn’t satisfy Napier, who said later she wished the city had a more definitive plan, given its desire to choose a site soon after the New Year. “We think it’s really unfortunate the project manager didn’t give more thought to where the uprooted programs could go,” she said. “That would have made this a lot more palatable.”

Sam Edelman, general manager of the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market, said he is “adamantly opposed” to the station being sited on the Cota Street lot. Saturday markets have been held there for 35 years, he said, and to move would be “devastating” for the organization. Like Napier, he’s frustrated with lack of communication from the city. “We were left out of the process, which is an issue for us,” he said. “They did a lot of this behind the scenes.”

Three public meetings led by Police Chief Lori Luhnow on the site selection process are scheduled for November 7 at the Faulkner Gallery, November 13 at the Franklin Neighborhood Center, and November 15 at La Cumbre Junior High School. Each will be held from 5:15 to 7 p.m. Spanish translation will be provided.