Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 1:01 pm | Mostly Cloudy 63º


Local News


Rise of Valet Parking on Public Streets Drives Heated Debate in Santa Barbara

The city is considering four options to crack down on the practice; some business owners say it's nothing but a ploy for generating more revenue

The City of Santa Barbara is moving toward regulating on-street valet parking. The Lark in the Funk Zone has risen in popularity, and its valet service uses on-street public parking to manage the flow.
The City of Santa Barbara is moving toward regulating on-street valet parking. The Lark in the Funk Zone has risen in popularity, and its valet service uses on-street public parking to manage the flow. (Josh Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The City of Santa Barbara wants to push back against the rise of on-street valet parking in the Funk Zone and on Coast Village Road near Montecito.

Valet attendants in some cases are setting up on sidewalks, blocking the public from parking, double parking and parking cars in bike lanes, in what city officials are calling "The Wild, Wild West."

The city is focused on several locations, but The Lark in the Funk Zone and Lucky's on Coast Village Road have emerged as ground zero in the debate over whether to regulate valet street parking.

"Some of the operators are commandeering lots of public parking spaces," said Derrick Bailey, supervising transportation engineer for the city. "They are setting up in the street. They are taking up public parking spaces."

The city does not have an ordinance regulating on-street valet parking, giving rise to a flurry of questionable practices. 

Signature Parking provides valet service for both Lucky's and The Lark, two of the city's hottest nightlife destinations.

Bailey said people have complained that the valet attendants park cars on public streets rather than inside a restaurant's parking lot. Valet attendants will sometimes discourage customers and noncustomers from parking on the city streets unless they use the valet service, Bailey said. That street parking, however, is for public use. Valet attendants have an incentive to park cars as close to a restaurant as possible, to reduce the amount of time and sprinting it takes to retrieve cars.

"We don't have the legal tools to deal with it," Bailey said. "Certainly if it is happening on our streets we have a responsibility to manage it as best as we can."

Santa Barbara is proposing four options: Ban on-street valet parking altogether; ban on-street valet parking except for special events; create an ordinance that requires valet companies to register with the city and establish a plethora of rules for doing business in the city; and contract with one valet operator to run valet services within business districts in the city. 

Michael Holmstrom, owner of Signature Parking, said he is in favor of an ordinance as long as it is not overly restrictive. He said right now he must compete with the general public for "loading and unloading space" on city streets. 

"From time to time citizens will complain, exerting their right to those public spaces instead of us," Holmstrom said. 

If a member of the public chooses to park in front of The Lark, Holmstrom said, his staff will "politely" ask the customer if they want them to park the car or if they want a spot inside the parking lot.

"If they refuse, we just let them park there," Holmstrom said. "Our company doesn't support our employees being aggressive in terms of trying to protect those spaces for themselves."

On Coast Village Road, Holmstrom said Signature places five cones on the street, where they lease space from the Wine Grotto. They lease 40 off-street parking lots from private lots in the area. They do use public streets to park cars.

"The guys will use on-street parking because right now there is nothing prohibiting them," Holmstrom said. 

Lucky's general manager Leonard Schwartz declined to comment. The Lark did not return Noozhawk calls.

The city also wants to pass the valet parking ordinance ahead of the upcoming opening of La Entrada, a 114-room luxury hotel with timeshares, 21,557 square feet of retail space with open plazas, paseos, gardens and a public parking garage.

The city has already approved an on-street valet parking program for that project — separate from any future ordinance. Signature has been hired as a consultant for that valet program. Traffic engineer Bailey said an ordinance would create fairness and consistency.

Blue Star Parking owner Travis Hawley, however, said that most of the complaints are about his competitor, Signature, and that an ordinance might not be necessary. He said the city might also be looking for ways to boost its budget and that it is unfortunate that valet parking providers are being lumped together.

"What it comes down to is ways to generate more revenue, based on what you would consider isolated complaints," Hawley said. "At the end of the day, we see through this and we see this as a revenue game. The city and the county are always looking at ways to drive more revenue from homeowners and business owners."

Hawley, whose company provides valet service for the Santa Barbara Bowl, Nuance Restaurant in the Funk Zone and Trattoria Mollie on Coast Village Road, said it would be a "big step back" to do away with on-street valet parking. He said Blue Star doesn't take up public parking spaces to do business.

He said valet parking services provide a great service for the city. The success of many restaurants and many special events, he said, could not happen without valet parking. 

"If we weren't there to provide the services we provide, you would be talking about a whole different reality," said Hawley. "What we do provides more of a solution than it does a problem."

Bailey said the city has received several complaints regarding the practice and that something must be done. The city's Planning Commission is scheduled to tackle the problem at its 1 p.m meeting Thursday.

"We want to get our arms around this before the problem gets any bigger," Bailey said. 

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.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >