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Planners to discuss height of new proposed Santa Barbara Police headquarters

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The height and several other issues connected to the proposed new Santa Barbara police station has the project going through an extensive review before it will be formally approved and funded.

A work session recently took place before the Santa Barbara Architectural Board of Review.

The preferred site is at the corner of Santa Barbara and Cota Streets.

This location came after months of exploring alternative public and private land ranging from the Spencer Adams Park downtown to the vacant Sears building at the La Cumbre Plaza.

The Cota Street site is a city-owned parking lot and in an ideal location where calls for service are the highest. It's also near the County Courthouse and District Attorney's office.

Members raised issues about the design, entrances, neighborhood compatibility and where certain departments would be in the building as laid out.

Architect Brian Cearnal defended the entrance on the Santa Barbara Street side which included an area for gatherings, ceremonies and special events.

The height of the building at 53 feet is higher than normally allowed. That issue is going to the Planning Commission for a review on its next stop through the process.

The police component to the project would be in 65,000-square-feet. It will sit next to a 35-foot high, 86,000-square-foot parking structure with 244 spaces. 30 trees in the parking lot at the location now will be removed if the project goes through.

Currently the police department's headquarters on Figueroa St. is a risky building. It was constructed in the 1950s and is said to be both inadequate and seismically unsafe.

The city was so nervous about an earthquake catastrophe there when the dispatch center was in the basement, it moved that function and the staff into the Granada garage building.

"The police station was built in the late '50s and it is undersized," said Assistant City Administrator Rebecca Bjork. "It was built before earthquake standards began."

A 30-year police veteran, Captain Marylinda Arroyo told the commissioners, that the department is currently in four different locations. "It is extremely difficult to have our dispatch 911 center away from our patrol operations and field operations," Arroyo said.

In looking over the drawing, the designs were said to be less welcoming than the commission had expected.

"This is not to be a penal institution. We want it to be a welcoming asset of our community," said board commissioner Leon Olson.  

If built, the frontage would be aligned with the Antioch College building next door.

Board Chairman Kevin Moore described it as "a dead frontage" and said it is "not contributing to our city and the desirable qualities that we want to promote."

Commissioner Dennis Whelan said he was concerned about the entryway being in the shade all the time. "This space is to be used for public events memorials, celebrations, it's really going to be a very dark, gloomy driveway," he said.

Architect Brian Cearnal is working on the designs and plans to modify various aspects of the project as suggested by city commissioners.

"As much as it is important to me to create a beautiful civic building, the building has got to work for the police department first and foremost," Cearnal said.

If the site is chosen and the project is finalized, the Saturday morning Certified Farmers' Market would also have to be relocated.

The cost of the project has been estimated at $80 million. Funding would come in part from the voter-approved Measure C tax. That was designated for capital projects such as road and sidewalk repairs along with a committed funding source for the police command center.

Last year, thousands of people rallied in the streets to call for a defunding and redesign of the police operations in Santa Barbara. It is still to be seen if that will be part of the final project as part of the new headquarters.

Chief Lori Luhnow retired from her post last weekend. The interim Chief of Police is former undersheriff Barney Melekian.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT NewsChannel 3 and NewsChannel 12. To learn more about John, click here.

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