by Nick Welsh
Angry boat owners crowded the City Council chambers Tuesday to protest a proposed five percent increase in harbor slip fees, managing to delay action by the Santa Barbara City Council’s Finance Committee. The slip fee controversy arose after Councilmembers Das Williams and Helene Schneider expressed concern that the City’s Parks and Recreation Department was subsidizing the ostensibly self-sufficient Waterfront Department. Parks and Recreation spends $186,000 a year to groom waterfront beaches and maintain its landscaping. Williams and Schneider hoped some of the savings from withdrawing this assistance could fund the labor-intensive work of organic pest control in city parks.
But Harbor Commissioner Frank Kelly argued such a fee increase would accelerate Santa Barbara’s conversion into a “country club harbor” by chasing out middle-class boat owners. Kelly proposed allowing the beaches to remain in their natural state, eliminating the costs of beach grooming altogether. If City Hall wants money to maintain the beaches, he suggested picking tourists’ pockets, since they — not the slip holders — are most likely to use the beaches. Finally, Kelly and others noted that the Waterfront Department was bracing itself for the withdrawal of federal funds used to pay for harbor dredging, which will add another $1.5 million to the Waterfront’s annual payroll. He also suggested the Waterfront Department yield control — and the revenues — of several beachfront parking lots east of Stearns Wharf, which he estimated would yield roughly $150,000 for the Parks Department. That option will be discussed in more detail next week. “I was expecting to get lynched between here and my office,” Williams said. “I was ready for it, ready to fight. I’m still ready to fight, but I’m also willing to listen.”