Elings Park visitors were greeted this weekend with an attendant and a new $5 parking fee, which went into effect with the new year.
The privately funded Santa Barbara park at 1298 Las Positas Road has begun charging $5 for every vehicle that enters the park on Saturdays and Sundays in an effort to raise money for much-needed maintenance and repairs, according to Elings Park Foundation executive director Mike Nelson.
Six-month and one-year parking passes are also available for $30 and $50, respectively.
The fee marks the first time any type of general user charge has been required to enter the popular park, which is owned and operated by the nonprofit Elings Park Foundation.
Increasing costs and shrinking budgets brought on the change, as well as a desire to grow the foundation’s endowment and a general decline in maintenance for the park that more than 200,000 people use annually.
“Elings Park receives no public subsidies and essentially has to generate its operating costs from revenues at the park or from donations,” Nelson said. “We’re not generating enough money to deal with the critical maintenance costs of those fields and what can be described as an aging park.
“We really felt we had no choice but to seek parking fees when impact is the greatest,” he continued. “Obviously, that’s going to be disappointing to some. We’re not a public facility and, as a consequence, we have to manage our financial resources the best we can.”
Nelson said the park has been charging those who park their vehicles during special weekend events, which spurred the fee idea and the subsequent approval by the foundation's board members.
He said the fee is not user based, so pedestrians and bicyclists will not have to pay. Dog walkers who already have annual passes to the park will not pay, either.
User fees are becoming increasingly necessary to cover basic costs of operations on the state and national level, according to Nelson.
Upkeep is needed for Elings’ baseball and soccer fields, as well as replacement of facilities and infrastructure repair.
Nelson said the foundation will soon develop a plan to repair its aging facilities. Thus far, he said, there has been no discussion about imposing a parking fee on weekdays.
“We want to provide them with a safe and clean, modern facility,” he said of park visitors. “Every dollar that’s collected at the gate in invested back in this facility.”