Fools Anchorage off Santa Barbara.
Boats moor in Fools Anchorage off Santa Barbara. The city has proposed eliminating the seasonal parking. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

A controversial proposal to halt the seasonal/summer anchorage program called Fools Anchorage near Santa Barbara’s Stearns Wharf has sunk like a stone.

The city’s Public Works Department wants to halt the program because it says that the boats could hurt the pipelines and intake structures, potentially disrupting water deliveries from the city’s desalination plant.

About 30 boat owners park their boats in the area for free from April 1 to Oct. 31. It’s one of three zones away from the Santa Barbara Harbor on the other side of the wharf.

Members of Santa Barbara’s Harbor Commission tanked the idea at a recent meeting.

“I would like to find a different solution than closing that anchorage,” Commissioner Kate Ford said. “I wonder if there’s a better way to help boaters in that area understand what’s in that area, rather than closing it off.”

Waterfront Department staff and public works officials said the boat owners can move to the paid mooring area, which costs $350 for an annual permit, up to $7,000 for a new mooring tackle set, and annual maintenance.

The Public Works Department said that in 2019, divers working on the desalination plant’s offshore intake structure reported that one of the intake structures experienced damage, consistent with an anchor dragging on the intake lid, “catching the cover and causing damage to the fastening system.”

Similar damage was discovered in 2023, according to the Public Works Department.

Bradley Rahrer, principal project manager for the Public Works Department, said that on two occasions there have been “fiber strikes.”

“There may be concerns that anchors, or folks who are using the seasonal anchorage area — and they probably don’t even know — have the potential damage the pipelines,” Rahrer said.

The area has three zones: the seasonal anchorage, roughly in front of the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion, and then next to that a permanent mooring area, and a year-round anchorage, closer to Montecito.

Some boaters go back and forth between the harbor and the seasonal anchorage, while others travel into Santa Barbara for shorter stays as part of longer journeys.

The proposal still would need approval from the California Coastal Commission and the City Council.

Beth Anna Cornett, a senior planner in public works, said the people who anchor in the seasonal area aren’t monitored unless there is a health and safety issue.

“They are not part of the harbor community necessarily,” Cornett said. “They are just an adjacent community of boaters with this open field where they can basically kind of do whatever they want.”

She said a few boats washed up during the January storms.

The commissioners did not like the idea of ending the seasonal anchorage and urged the Public Works Department to figure out something else.

Commissioner Michael Nelson said the California Coastal Commission should steer the ship, not the city.

“In my dealings with the Coastal Commission and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, if they think there is a problem, they are pretty quick to tell you,” Nelson said. “If they want to recommend that we close off access to boating, let the Coastal Commission tell you that and then come back to us.”

Commissioner Suzanne Cohen said asking 30 people to move permanently is “a lot of people. The city should find other options.”

“I would be in favor of looking at those options before we move everyone out of an area that has been an anchorage point for a very, very long time,” Cohen said.