Community priorities are rightfully set by voters. On rare occasions, those priorities are in conflict.

Randy Rowse

Randy Rowse (Noozhawk file photo)

The need for a new Santa Barbara police station and the downtown Saturday Farmers Market is not one of those “occasions,” although we sometimes hear it described as such. Both items are vital parts of our community fabric.

As a community, we recognized a new police station as a top-ranked priority during the 2017 Measure C vote to raise the sales tax to cover essential infrastructure. The need has been obvious for decades as the city and its police force grew over the years and the “essential building” standards for seismic integrity were established. Click here to see the options for yourself.

My personal reasons for why the East Cota Street commuter lot, the current home to the farmers market, is the superior option are as follows:

» The City of Santa Barbara owns that parking lot, obviating the need to spend many millions of dollars to purchase a private site.

» Any existing building would not meet the required seismic parameters, which eliminates a lot of suggested properties.

» The police station should be downtown, both in terms of community presence and its proximity to the court system.

» The size, bulk and scale of the proposed structure would match the immediately surrounding buildings, thus minimizing impacts to the skyline.

The Saturday Farmers Market has been held in the Cota lot for three decades, after it moved from the parking lot at Santa Barbara High School, and following a prior move from the Santa Barbara Mission.

Its presence has been a tradition for local families and brings vitality to our downtown on Saturday mornings. Folks attend religiously, and they like that they are supporting our independent farmers while engaging in a pleasant, healthy activity.

So how do we accommodate the two issues, building this essential structure while supporting what many people consider a community treasure?

In my role as a City Council member, I have a responsibility to provide the best public safety possible and enable our first responders to do their jobs, all within the limits of our ability to finance these projects. I cannot justify asking you for $10 million to $20 million more to purchase private land in order to maintain an activity that occupies the Cota lot four half-days a month.

As a community, we can and should work together to find great solutions for both. The reality also exists that surface parking lots are increasingly giving way to housing projects in California, and there is no guarantee that ours will remain a parking lot in perpetuity.

The farmers market has made it known that it would prefer not to move. I get that. Business is hard enough as it is without being uprooted.

I also believe we can work together to create a solution to ensure that the market thrives in a new downtown home. The market belongs downtown and should remain part of the weekend Santa Barbara experience.

There is still a tremendous amount of work ahead, but with cooperation, the end result will be best for all parties. I hope you will join me and support both the new police station and the Saturday Farmers Market.

Randy Rowse is a Santa Barbara city councilman and owner of Paradise Café. The opinions expressed are his own.