In hopes of boosting revenue and providing a new way for citizens to enjoy the outdoors, the County of Santa Barbara’s Parks Department plans to install rental units at a series of county parks.
A total of 14 cabins — which are technically trailers like the ones at the El Capitan Canyon resort, complete with electricity, toilets, and kitchenettes — are being purchased by the county with a $700,000 grant from the state. Of those, four will go to Jalama Beach and another four to Cachuma Lake; since both of those parks currently offer camping as well as hook-ups, those cabins should be installed by the end of the year. The remaining six will be divided between Lookout Beach Park in Summerland, Goleta Beach Park, and Toro Canyon Park, and are expected to be operational no later than March 31, 2011, when the state grant deadline hits. None of those parks currently have overnight options, so the proposal marks a considerable change in the previous day-use-only restrictions.
“We are trying to help close the revenue gap between what it’s costing to operate all of the parks and the revenue we’re actually getting and forecast to get,” said Tom Fayram of County Parks. “At the same time, we’re hoping to provide an opportunity — beachside camping — that’s not really available on the South Coast.” He explained that the cabins will be going where there are already existing structures or otherwise disturbed land; the Lookout Park cabins, for instance, will take the place of the existing ranger’s residence, and the Goleta ones will be located on the current maintenance yard. “It’s not like the things are being planted right in the middle of what everyone uses,” said Fayram. “They are trying to design them so that they don’t impact the day use of these parks.”
The cost of the units has not yet been determined, although an article in the Coastal View News cited a $300-per-night estimate. [UPDATE: County Parks said the $300 is not accurate, and that costs will likely be between $100 and $200 per night.] Meanwhile, the cabins at Cachuma are rented for between $135 and $210 a night depending on number of people and the season. (See more info on those cabins here.) “Obviously, we want to be sensitive to not pricing these things way out of line,” said Fayram. “That wouldn’t do us good if they were sitting vacant all the time.” Fayram said that they will be conducting market studies to determine an appropriate price structure in the near future. He’s also not sure how much revenue will be generated yet, especially since such added costs as maid service will need to be factored in. “We don’t have anything to compare it to,” said Fayram.
As part of the process, Fayram has reached out to the Summerland Citizens Association (SCA). “They started the process of making the community aware of their plans,” confirmed Cindy Sapienza, president of the SCA, which represents the small town’s 1,500 or so residents. “We have asked that County Parks have a community meeting so that everyone who lives in Summerland has the opportunity to understand the plan and give input.” Though no date for such a meeting has been set, Sapienza hopes it will occur before Thanksgiving.
She explained that people in Summerland, which essentially surrounds Lookout Park, do have some serious concerns. “This really is right in the middle of a town,” she said, noting that residents are particularly concerned about security. “We need to know what type of assurances we have that this won’t end up turning into something you might not want in your backyard.” As such, said Sapienza, “We have not taken an official stance.”
Another concerned Summerland citizen is Fran Davis, who covers the community for the Coastal View News. In her recent report, Davis wrote, “I admit that I’m not in love with this idea. Mainly I resent the budget mess that has put the County Parks Department into the hotel business. I think Parks should be about parks. Serving the general public. Maintaining our green spaces as recreation areas, as access points to the beach, as a respite and getaway from enclosures and asphalt.”
The Parks Department is currently moving this proposal through the county’s Planning & Development Department, which has the power to approve these cabins without involving the notoriously strict California Coastal Commission. However, Fayram said that his staff had spoken with the commission’s staff, and that they were “encouraged by the prospect.”
As of yet, there have been no reactions from residents in Goleta or Toro Canyon. For Fayram and the rest of County Parks, these cabins will both enhance the parks and bring in the extra bucks that they need during these cash-strapped times. “It is something that is new, but that doesn’t make it necessarily a bad thing,” said Fayram. “It’s actually kind of a cool thing….Unless you can get a Miramar Beach bungalow,” he laughed about the defunct hotel, “there’s not an affordable alternative that’s at or near the beach.”