Downtown Santa Barbara parking lot.
Proposed rate changes for downtown Santa Barbara parking lots would bring in $5.84 million over the next three years. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Gas prices aren’t the only costs that are rising. Come July 1, it might cost more to park in downtown Santa Barbara lots.

The city’s downtown parking staff has proposed a three-year plan that involves increasing rates at downtown lots to $2.50 an hour in 2023 and $3 an hour in 2024, and then slashing the 75-minute free period to 60 minutes in 2025. The change is estimated to bring in $5.84 million over the next three years. Currently, it costs $1.50 per hour after the free period.

The Downtown Parking Fund is expected to have a $2.8 million deficit next year, so the fee changes are designed to close that gap and start building up the department reserve funds.

Sarah Clark, acting downtown plaza and parking manager, said many factors are contributing to the deficit and there’s a need to find new revenue sources. The minimum wage has gone up, and fewer people are parking in city lots.

“It is a trend that started before the pandemic, but has been exacerbated,” Clark said. 

The department has not raised fees since 2006.

The city at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 laid off hourly workers. Now, it employs about 50 hourly workers, down from about 80 during the pandemic. The city also recently moved to an automated system with license plate readers, reducing the need for human beings to work in the kiosks.

The Downtown Parking Committee is expected to discuss the issue on Thursday, but ultimately, the Santa Barbara City Council will vote on the fee increases as part of the budget approval for next year. Clark said the city is just beginning its outreach. 

“No one wants to see parking rates increased,” Clark said. “At the same time, at least the stakeholders that we have talked to, are understanding that the budget needs to be balanced.”

Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse is in support of the fee increases.

“We are overdue for fee changes,” Rowse said. “If you haven’t raised a price since 2006, you are probably not doing your job. We have not stayed on top of this.”

He said there’s a cost to maintaining the parking lots, and inflation alone would justify the need to increase the costs.

Rowse said customer convenience is about as important as anything, but the economics are real.

“We want to make sure we remain as customer friendly as possible, but we also have to stay in business,” Rowse said.

Robin Elander, executive director of the Downtown Association, which represents downtown businesses, said she sees the importance of increasing the rates.

“The city’s recommendation to raise fees is in part to pay for increased costs of cleaning and maintenance services for the sidewalks, streets and paseos downtown,” Elander said.

She said parking fees are one way to pay for “some of the critical infrastructure and services that make downtowns across the nation, including ours, function.”

Elander said she is communicating with the Downtown Parking Committee, city staff and downtown employers to explore special parking areas and rates for downtown workers, and other “creative methods.”

“Surprisingly, parking fees haven’t been raised since 2006 while needs of the downtown commercial district have grown, changed and become more costly,” Elander said. “We need to plan for our future now, and this is one way to support making important services we want to see possible.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at