Car break-ins, vandalism, and other illegal late-night shenanigans have long plagued the parking lot at Santa Barbara County’s world-famous Rincon Beach Park. Located in relative isolation just off Highway 101’s Bates Road exit, attractions such as scenic stretches of beach and access to top-notch wave riding have made the county-owned park not only one of the most popular but also a magnet for unwanted activity.
Looking to put an end to the latter part of this legacy and the extra visits by county staff it often requires, County Parks organizers implemented a longstanding wish late last month by placing an onsite, live-in, year-round park “host” program at the Rincon lot. “Basically, this is a win-win situation. It gives us additional eyes and ears in the park, it provides an early warning system for when trouble does occur, and it saves the county a lot of money,” explained Erik Axelson, South County deputy parks director.
Shortly after Christmas, Lou Newell and his girlfriend, Lori Ortiz, officially moved in at the ‘Con, parking their pop-out trailer on the Santa Barbara County side of the point. Initially located in the parking lot itself, the park hosts’ trailer has since been relocated off the pavement on the ocean side, tucked into a grove of trees along the eastern edge of bluff. The park host program-already successfully in place at county parks like Tucker’s Grove, Jalama, Lake Cachuma, and Goleta Beach-provides unpaid volunteers with a free, scenic place to park their home for 90 days in exchange for overnight security duties, 20 hours of park maintenance a week, and general stewardship of the public place. (Hosts can renew their stint up to three times a year.)
“Sure, this is my backyard now but more importantly it’s the public’s park,” Newell said of his new digs. “We are just in charge of keeping it a little cleaner and a little safer so everyone can enjoy it.”
In addition to having Newell and Ortiz kick off Rincon’s host program, the county also recently installed large steel gates at the park’s entrance. While the parking lot on the Ventura side of the point-the one with the trail that winds down into Rincon Cove-will remain open 24 hours a day, the Santa Barbara County side will now physically be closed to the public overnight. However, fully aware of the off-hour habits of the surfers and fishers who frequent the park, county officials have promised that hosts will have the gates open “at least an hour before sunrise” every day and the gates won’t be closed until well past sunset. Further, should you find yourself locked in after hours, Newell says all you need to do is give a knock on his door and he will happily let you out. “If you’ve got a problem, see something suspicious or are out late, don’t hesitate to come by and talk to us. That’s what we are here for,” offered Newell.
While the parking lot rumor mill speculated immediately over the holidays that the introduction of a host program at the sacred ground of Rincon was a harbinger of the apocalypse-that is, pay parking-for the historic site, county officials went on record this week saying that such speculation is just that. According to Axelson, not only is the host program “definitely not” a first step toward charging for parking but, moreover, such user fees at the Queen of the Coast are “not in the [county’s] plans at all.”