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Santa Barbara Ordinance Committee Rejects Proposed Valet Parking Fee

City staff proposed charging $1,200 annual fee for valet operators that use on-street public parking

The Santa Barbara City Council’s Ordinance Committee rejected a proposal to create a fee for valet services that use on-street parking. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara City Council’s Ordinance Committee rejected a proposal to create a fee for valet services that use on-street parking.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

A proposal to create a $1,200 fee for on-street valet parking fell flat on its face at Tuesday’s meeting of the Santa Barbara City Council’s Ordinance Committee. 

“I just do not see where there’s a problem,” said Councilman Frank Hotchkiss, one of the three committee members. “This isn’t well-vetted. This sounds so complicated that it sounds like we are doing our best to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Transportation Planning Manager Rob Dayton said at Tuesday’s meeting that discussions about regulating on-street valet parking began in 2015, but staff’s heavy workload prevented the proposal from moving forward until now.

Dayton said that “people don’t want to see public parking spaces used by valet.”

The issue centers on valet operators who park vehicles on public streets.

Valet operators sometimes take over public curbside parking spaces or loading zones in the public right of way, generally in front of the business they serve, for people to drop off and pick up their cars.

Valet drivers then take the vehicles and park them in a variety of locations, including public or private parking lots, or elsewhere on public streets.

The fee proposal from city staff was to create an annual $1,200 on-street valet parking permit fee to capture the cost of allowing valet companies and the restaurants they serve to park cars on public streets for their private service. 

The money would also cover staff costs to review Valet Parking Plans annually, and conduct on-site observations of each valet parking operation, staff said.

The idea was that one or more businesses in an area could pay the fee, and then use or share a valet service for their patrons.

Ordinance Committee member Councilman Randy Rowse, who owns The Paradise Cafe, said there’s always been a bit of a Wild West flavor to on-street valet parking, and that “valet is still a business and that is not what public parking is set up for.”

Rowse said the proposal should go to the Downtown Parking Committee for more scrutiny before moving ahead, and Hotchkiss and Councilwoman Cathy Murillo agreed.

“I don’t think any of us are ready to send this on to the council,” Rowse said.

Hotchkiss said valet operators are offering a good service since many of the vehicles are stored in private lots. Without a valet service, those cars would have to battle for spots on the street.

“We have this terrible reputation that we are a business unfriendly city,” Hotchkiss said. “And now we want to regulate? The last thing we want is more regulation. Less is better.”

Murillo also said she wasn't ready to support the proposal. 

“We are all trying to live, drive and park in Santa Barbara,” she said. “We need a program that everyone is accepting of, where everyone wins a little bit.”

A few speakers during public comment said they were blindsided by the fee proposal. 

Terri Bartlett said she didn’t understand why a valet service parking a car on the public street was a problem. 

“The use of the right of way is for the public,” she said. “If a member of the public has the opportunity for someone else to park their car I don’t understand why that needs to generate a fee.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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