It’s a typical Saturday at the Farmers’ Market in Santa Barbara, but the mood is anything but normal.
There’s an air of defeat, overpowering the smell of strawberries and sunflowers.
After more than 30 years, the market is facing an unthinkable scenario: getting kicked out of its home on the corner of Cota and Santa Barbara streets.
The landlord, the city of Santa Barbara, wants to push the popular food market out so that it can build a new, state-of-the-art police station at the site. The city has worked with the Farmers’ Market staff to find a new spot, and so far De la Guerra Plaza is the leading contender.
But so far, other than city staff and police department employees, not a lot of people are thrilled about the potential move.
The Santa Barbara City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the preferred site for the new police station, in what is expected to be a lively meeting at City Hall. Farmers’ Market supporters are holding a music and art event from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at De la Guerra Plaza, during the City Council meeting.
The city evaluated other sites with finalists including Earl Warren Showgrounds, the Sears Building in La Cumbre Plaza, and the Louise Lowry Davis Center. Although all three sites meet the programming needs for the police department, they are not the city’s first choice because of other factors. The current police station at 215 E. Figueroa St. needs replacing since it is too small and outdated for the force’s needs, according to the city.
The city-owned 3.2-acre Louise Lowry Davis Center/Spencer Adams Park/1235 Teen Center site would require a vote of the people to change the use from a park to a police station. The site also includes a lawn bowling facility that is in use seven days per week..
Earl Warren Showgrounds is owned by the state and is located outside city limits. “The site presents challenges to the Police Department for access to the city center for court obligations and patrols that involve walking or biking,” a city staff report states.
La Cumbre Plaza’s Sears building is not for sale and a site too large, at 9.45 acres, for the city’s needs. It is also too far from the Superior Court building and City Hall for officers to walk, unlike the current location.
Recently, Mayor Cathy Murillo and former mayors Helene Schneider, Hal Conklin, Sheila Lodge and Marty Blum appeared at a press conference to support a new downtown site for the police station.
But Farmers’ Market staff contend that De la Guerra Plaza is the wrong spot, and that it limits growth. The organization has already placed a moratorium on accepting new farmers because of the anticipated size limitations in the Plaza.
Kody Schweickhardt, a Farmers’ Market volunteer, spent the last several weeks gathering signatures to keep the market on Cota Street.
“It’s been here 35 years,” Schweickhardt said. “It’s part of the culture of Santa Barbara.”
De la Guerra Plaza just won’t feel the same, he said.
“It’s just a different feel from downtown,” he said. “Moving is going to change the spirit a bit.”
Farmer’s Market volunteers spent Saturday gathering signatures for a petition to keep the farmers’ market at its current site, and they plan to present it to the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting. As of this weekend, they had more than 6,500 signatures.
“I understand the need for the police station,” said olive grower Cindy Makelah. “Why don’t they build the station in De la Guerra Plaza?
She said the plaza site will be difficult for the farmers’ market because there’s no place for the growers to park and set up.
Nicholas Sorosky was one of the people who signed the petition on Saturday.
“It’s rare to find a Farmers Market this large,” Sorosky said. “A Farmers Market creates community. Moving it would be disruptive.”
Farmers Market shopper Jordan Benshea said she agrees that the city needs a police station downtown. She just hopes that city officials do their best to find a good new spot for the market because it fulfills an important role in the community.
“It is vitally important that we continue to support our local Farmers Market,” she said.
On Monday afternoon, an unlikely player emerged in the Farmers Market conflict: Women’s March Santa Barbara. The group says that De la Guerra Plaza is its home for marches and public dialogue.
The proposal to move the farmers’ market there “threatens our only free speech venue in Santa Barbara, on the day of the week that most people are likely to participate,” the group said in a statement.
The Santa Barbara City Council meeting starts at 2 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, at 735 Anacapa St.