A Santa Barbara sojourn is only complete with a stay at a beachfront hotel, and the California Coastal Commission thinks the opportunity should be an economically equal one. Hotelier and former actor Fess Parker holds the right to build a hotel across the street from the DoubleTree Resort on Cabrillo Boulevard, as long as he builds a youth hostel at the property he owns at State and Montecito streets. But on January 4, Parker, speaking at a Rotary Club luncheon, proposed selling that corner lot-estimated to be worth $5 million-and giving the profits to the city to use to combat youth gangs in exchange for a waiver from the Coastal Commission for the necessity of building the hostel.
Hollywood’s “king of the wild frontier”-Parker played Davy Crockett in Disney’s 1950s film series and also Daniel Boone on TV in the ’60s-proposed that the donation be given in $500,000 increments for 10 years. In his speech to the Rotarians, members of an organization dedicated to promoting business and community, Parker said, “Businesses here don’t want a scandal to sully their reputations. It’s gang-against-gang at the moment, but inadvertently, certain accidents can happen-bystanders killed. The fact that the city would be known for gang violence is what we have at risk. If tourism falls off, what do we have in Santa Barbara to make up for it?”
The youth hostel requirement is not a new one, and the hostel has already received approval to be built from the city’s Planning Commission. The DoubleTree-formerly the Red Lion Hotel-went up in 1983. The stipulation existed then, but the city agreed to delay it as long as it was constructed before a second hotel was built. Parker submitted plans for the second hotel in the early ’90s, at which time the youth hostel requirement was reauthorized by both the city and the Coastal Commission. He attempted to increase the number of rooms by 50 percent in the new facility in the late ’90s, but the plan was denied by the city. Not to be deterred, he had the proposed expansion put on a ballot measure, which was soundly defeated by the public in 1999.
Parker stated that his offer is good until March 1, 2008. The financing requirements for the new hotel call for construction to be completed by a certain date, and the hostel would also have to be started by then. “I’m not against hostels or the use of them,” he said, “but I think there’s something that has a higher priority, and that’s the safety of our community. There’s a hostel half a block away and this would put it out of business. It’s not operating at 100 percent.” The establishment in question, Santa Barbara International Hostel, has not consistently been operating at full capacity in recent weeks, said a desk attendant there, but peak tourist season runs from April to October. During that time, the attendant said, hostel staff regularly must turn away potential customers.
Parker also stated that there would be no profitability in running a hostel. The one in question is to be run by a nonprofit organization.
Community activist Lee Moldaver expressed doubt that Parker will be able to get past the Coastal Commission in order to follow through with the plan. “I haven’t seen any support from the city or the state to exempt him from the requirement,” he said. “He sincerely believes that government should have no say in what someone does with his property.” So far, however, Parker’s proposal has not been brought to the city. “He hasn’t approached the city formally,” said City Public Works Director Paul Casey.
“The Coastal Commission and their staff made it clear that they wanted to protect access to the beach for people of all incomes,” said Moldaver. “[Parker] made a promise to the people of this community and now he’s trying to wiggle out of it.”