High on the Riviera, where multimillion-dollar homes look out over Santa Barbara’s red-tile roofs and the blue Pacific Ocean, dark clouds are gathering over street parking.
Some residents near the Belmond El Encanto at 800 Alvarado Place are angry that hotel employees are parking in their neighborhood and on their streets. The employees are supposed to park at the hotel or at an off-site lot and shuttle in, but that’s not happening enough, neighbors say.
“When these people are here they have shifts,” Nan Bedford, a nearby resident, told Noozhawk. “When they do park on our street and get off of work, they are together. They are laughing. They are slamming the doors. … They are gunning (their engines).
“That noise is part of an issue for us in the neighborhood. We have reduced access. There’s noise at weird times of the day and night, and it is disturbing.”
Bedford is one of many residents who spoke out at a recent Santa Barbara Planning Commission meeting, calling for officials to intervene and do something about the parking problem.
Residents say El Encanto employees are parking in front of their houses and that the hotel’s management has done little to ensure they are instead parking on-site as part of the hotel’s agreement with the city. Municipal officials even put up fencing at nearby Orpet Park because hotel employees were parking on side streets and cutting through the park, damaging landscaping.
Bedford said residents have resorted to putting up cones, illegal signs and painting curbs to deter people from parking in the neighborhood.
“I don’t want to feel like I’m living in the El Encanto parking lot,” Bedford said. “We have our rights in the neighborhood that should be respected.”
Santa Barbara officials in 2004 approved a master plan for the El Encanto, which was cleared for a total of 97 guest rooms after an extensive renovation. One condition was that employees park on-site but, after the hotel reopened in 2013, the city determined there was not enough parking on the property for the 215 employees. The hotel has 100 parking spaces on-site and another 40 at an off-site lot.
After steady complaints from neighbors, the city in May sent a letter to El Encanto offiicials requesting that the hotel provide a comprehensive employee-parking management plan within 30 days. The hotel did not provide a complete plan to the city, which prompted a meeting earlier this month. The city is requiring the hotel to patrol nearby streets throughout the day to make sure that employees are parking where they should be.
The parking drama has ignited a furor in the neighborhood, with many residents saying El Encanto management has ignored their concerns. Some say the problem has eased a bit lately, but only because the hotel knows the pressure is on to clean things up.
The stress has highlighted the challenges of a residential neighborhood wrapped around a commercial hotel, in a pocket of the city that has narrow roads, little street parking and residents who enjoy their peace and tranquility.
“If noncompliance continues, this could result in enforcement and fines by the city,” project planner Kathleen Kennedy observed.
Elizabeth Fajardo, the El Encanto’s human resources director, told Noozhawk she was hired in January 2013, but that only recently — in August, after some El Encanto management changes — has she been able to get “up to speed” on all the components of the parking program.
“Our parking has definitely been a challenge in making sure that team members … truly understand the seriousness of adhering to our parking lot and procedures,” she said.
The El Encanto has partnered with First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara, 21 E. Constance Ave., to provide 40 parking spaces for employees. The hotel provides a shuttle that Fajardo said runs every 15 minutes from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.
At the Planning Commission meeting, she said hotel staff who don’t park in the appropriate areas face a verbal warning, followed by a written warning and then termination. She acknowledged that the hotel has not fired anyone over the parking issue.
“The bottom line is they have overbuilt the property,” said Lynda Courtney, an El Encanto neighbor. “They have taken every inch of space on that property for buildings so they didn’t give any employees any parking like they promised to.”
On any given day, she said, six to 10 employees can be found parking on the streets around the hotel.
“They are not monitoring these cars that well and they are certainly not enforcing it,” Courtney said.
“They tried to turn my quiet, peaceful, scenic, single-family, up-market neighborhood into their own personal, commercial zone,” she added.
Sheri Parker, another neighbor, said the hotel has ignored residents.
“The El Encanto has simply neglected to deal with their employee parking issues and, as a result, their employee parking has dominated Mission Ridge,” she said.
Parker said her 88-year-old mother must park one or two houses up the street when she visits.
“It’s just absurd that we are unable to have street parking in front of our homes,” she said. “It’s just not right.”
Parker said she could understand an employee occasionally parking on the street, but that it’s not a rare thing.
“These are the same people who constantly park in front of our home almost every day that they work,” she fumed.
Not everyone in the neighborhood is upset, however. Sheri Benninghoven used to videotape and write down license plate numbers of cars parked on her street.
“It was the same car in the same spot, every day,” said Benninghoven, adding that the drivers were putting on their work aprons while walking to the hotel. She called the hotel’s general manager, but did not hear back.
“Clearly, there was a plan that didn’t get executed,” she said.
Benninghoven says things are better now. A neighbor put up “No Hotel Parking” signs on private property, a move that seems to have deterred many of the street parkers. And she says she believes hotel officials have worked hard to address the neighborhood concerns.
“Everything has calmed down,” she said. “The hotel’s a treasure. We all have to get along.”
Planning Commissioner Mike Jordan said he’s skeptical of the hotel’s commitment to resolving the parking issue.
“The plan today is a plan that has been nonresponsive to the city’s requests, and has been followed up with a representative standing up in front of us saying, ‘We’ll take care of that,’” he said. “The details of the long-term parking plan are, at best, sketchy.”