The public protested en masse Thursday evening when the Santa Barbara County Park Commission held the second of three open meetings to discuss the potential institution of parking fees for the county’s public beaches.
Over 150 people crammed into the small Santa Barbara Planning Commission hearing room, brandishing homemade signs and bright yellow printouts to show their dislike of the proposed fees. While the Park Commission did not vote on the issue, staff gave a presentation on the various plans for beach parking. Dozens of residents spoke against the fees, claiming that monetizing parking at public beaches would severely impact low-income residents’ ability to visit them, as well as limiting free, healthy activities for children and teenagers.
Thus far, the proposed fees are one of the county’s least popular solutions to reinvigorate dwindling revenue streams. Park Commission staff are currently debating between a flat daily rate and a tiered system, wherein parking fees would be paid hourly, with the fee increasing slightly each hour.
While a flat daily rate could bring in around $2.4 million dollars annually, Park Commission staff estimates that local beaches could lose up to 40 percent of their attendees, with the popular Goleta Beach and Arroyo Burro beach losing up to 45 percent. With a tiered hourly rate, staff estimated a 25 percent drop with possible profits around $1.5 million annually. Staff mentioned prices beginning at $2/hour in a tiered system, or $12 per day at a flat rate. Although no final decision has been reached on which fees, if any, will be instituted, a tiered system seemed to be more favored by the commission.
Regardless of the commission’s feelings, public sentiment remained adamantly against any fee. The Planning Commission hearing room was packed, with attendees spilling into the adjoining hallway, standing along the room’s walls and sitting in aisles. Loud applause, discouraged by Park Commission members, followed many speeches.
Sean Dorn, a Santa Barbara county resident who has spent time or lived in several other oceanside towns, said free, public access to the beach was consistently a huge part of community life. “Are we a beach community, or are we a community that just happens to be near the beach?” Dorn said.
Mark Sellars, a life-long Santa Barbara resident and graduate of San Marcos High School and UCSB, said monetizing beach access was counterproductive to the local community. “I would not describe myself as a customer when I go to Goleta Beach; I would describe myself as a resident,” Sellars said.
Many residents also said the parking fees would impact certain members of the Santa Barbara community more than others. Going to the beach is one of few low-cost family activities available to residents living on a tight budget. This would affect many low-income families, including seniors living on retirement pensions and social security benefits.
Ernie Wagner, a 74-year-old Santa Barbara resident who uses Arroyo Burro beach three to four times a week, said parking fees could cost him several hundred dollars a year to maintain his current lifestyle.
Several parents also spoke up, mentioning that beach parking fees could dissuade teenagers from beach activities, keeping them inside playing video games in lieu of surfing or other outdoor activities.
Thursday was the second of three meetings concerning beach parking fees. The third will be held on August 23 in Santa Maria.