After a unanimous vote by the City Council vote on Tuesday, Santa Barbara voters are one step closer to being presented with a ballot measure asking them to fund new police headquarters.
That item wouldn’t be on the ballot until November 2012, and the City Council has yet to decide what type of financing mechanism would be used or how long voters would be asked to pay. City staff will be moving forward with the next steps of the project and will brief the council again in 120 days.
The Santa Barbara Police Department’s Figueroa Street building was built in 1959 and has numerous structural problems, including violations of seismic standards. About $50 million is needed for the rebuild, and city staff says $20 million of that could be used from the Redevelopment Agency budget.
The council confirmed Tuesday that rebuilding the police headquarters is the city’s No. 1 capital infrastructure need. It also gave the OK for city staff to begin exploring where to relocate the dispatch center until a new building could be built.
“The concern is that, in a seismic event, you might lose the effectiveness of your call center,” Community Development Director Paul Casey said, adding that the dispatch center would move before the building project begins. He said, however, that the dispatch center would move back into the new building once completed.
“We are at risk of that here,” he said. “Our communications system sits at the bottom of an unsafe building.”
White encouraged the City Council to put out a call to the community for the funding, and said it should begin to transition the dispatch center out of the building.
Councilman Randy Rowse said he thinks that once the public sees the condition of the building inside, funding will become a priority.
“What I’ve seen was Third World at best,” he said.
A bond measure to overhaul the station was put before voters in November 1999, but it failed because only 45 percent of voters supported it. The new measure would need either two-thirds or a majority of voters to support it, depending on the type of ballot measure selected.
On the Santa Barbara County level, Sheriff Bill Brown tried to sway voters on a half-cent sales tax to fund a new county jail, but the measure was resoundingly defeated by voters in November, despite widespread political support.
That effort was brought up several times Tuesday among the council members, including Mayor Helene Schneider.
“The City of Santa Barbara voted a little over 50 percent for Measure S,” she said, adding that she believes residents understand the need for adequate infrastructure.
During public comment, one person suggested putting the new headquarters in the vacant Chapala One building. Casey said it’s not an option because police stations must meet a higher building code that schools and hospitals also follow.
“In many ways, it’s what Cottage Hospital had to do,” he said.
The city also would have to pay for Chapala One and then gut the building, which Casey said wouldn’t be cost effective.
Councilman Frank Hotchkiss asked whether the new facility would have a jail, but Police Chief Cam Sanchez said that would be extremely expensive, and put the department in a position of financial and legal liability.
Councilman Grant House said he would endorse only $10 million of RDA money going toward the new building, saying, “$20 million goes too far, I believe.”
He added that the council would be unable to meet other obligations with the money, but he eventually agreed to go forward with the process because it will be re-evaluated in 120 days.
Rowse said he understood House’s concern, but “we as an agency need to go the extra mile,” he said, adding that it would be difficult enough to get the public to approve the ballot measure.