The possibility of Santa Barbara County imposing parking fees at its seven beaches met strong public opposition Thursday at a Santa Barbara County Park Commission workshop, one of three scheduled to solicit input on the proposal.
The Park Commission wants to gauge public opinion before making its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, which has the ultimate say in whether to implement the proposal.
If fees are instituted, the county expects to bring in $1.58 million to $2.48 million annually, given that the minimum price is charged and not including citation revenue.
Community Services Director Herman Parker said the two approaches being considered are a flat-rate fee, in which patrons pay the same amount regardless of the amount of time they spend at the beach, or a tiered system, in which fees are paid by the hour. Parker said the most cost-effective way to monitor payment would be to use solar-powered, automated kiosks spaced throughout each beach access area.
Possibilities such as 60 minutes of free parking and availability of annual passes are also being considered, and many of the ideas are modeled after local beaches with similar systems in place, such as state beaches and Santa Barbara city beaches.
Parker said the Board of Supervisors ultimately will decide how the revenue will be used, and the money will not necessarily be used for beach maintenance.
Following a short presentation, Thursday’s meeting transitioned into a public comment portion, in which detractors touched on a range of potential pitfalls, including overflow parking, negative impact on business and a decrease in beach accessibility.
Santa Barbara native Tony de Groot said the fees would add up to be excessively expensive for frequent beach-goers.
“Am I in favor or against? It’s like asking if I’m in favor or against chopping my left arm off — it’s that important to me,” de Groot said during the public comment portion.
One of the concerns the speakers most commonly brought up was that parking fees would significantly reduce beach access for lower-income residents.
“The people who use Goleta Beach are definitely not the kind of people who can afford another couple hundred dollars a year in parking fees,” Santa Barbara Surfrider representative Everett Lipman said. “Clearly, the community is not in favor of this, and if we need to pave roads in Montecito, let’s not be asking a working-class family with a $35,000-a-year income to pay for it.”
Another prominent issue was the negative impact fees might have on restaurants and other nearby businesses through overflow parking and loss of customers. Speakers on behalf of Summerland downtown business owners, the Beachside Bar and Café in Goleta, the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach restaurant and the Southern California Gas Company all came out in opposition to the proposal.
Southern California Gas Co. District Manager Tim Mahoney said the county should consider making exceptions for certain businesses and utility companies if they decide to proceed with the plan in order to maintain the area’s economic health.
“If you go forward with this idea — and I’m certainly not recommending that you do — then there needs to be exemptions for utilities. There’s water, there’s gas, there’s sewer and there’s electric — you’ve got trash carts that go down there. Many of the beach parks you are talking about have restaurants that are facilitated by other delivery trucks,” Mahoney said, “All of that contributes to the ambience and the economic vitality — everything that makes Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara — so I think I would really take a long time to decide how this is going to roll out.”