Jen Lilienstein

It’s not just Montecito residents who depend on available parking along the neighborhood streets surrounding the new Miramar hotel — surfers and beachcombers from Goleta to Carpinteria rely on our streets for safe, nearby, legal public access to one of the area’s most beautiful — and surfable — beaches. In mid April, the Caruso group will be appealing the Montecito Planning Commission’s restrictions on its entitlements to 100 beach-club members and 350 event guests to return them to proposed entitlements of 200 beach-club members and 400 event guests. Here’s why it should matter to you:

Per the Los Angeles Times“Investors snap up luxury hotels” on February 16, luxury hotel occupancy rates are up and continue to rise. In fact, the average — not peak — hotel occupancy rate in 2014 was 70 percent. This means, of the 176 guest rooms on the property, we can bet that 123 or more of them will be filled on a regular basis.

Many luxury hotel operators, including the Terranea in Rancho Palos Verdes, have a 2.6 employee-to-room ratio or better. Split into three shifts, with one “peak hour” shift, Caruso Affiliated has significantly underestimated the potential maximum hotel employees on site and has estimated only 31 parking spaces to accommodate employees during peak periods.

On an average — not peak — day at the new Miramar hotel, how many of the 400 proposed event guests, 250-plus restaurant patrons, spa patrons, and 200 beach-club members will spill over onto neighborhood streets? Further, county ordinance requires 614 spaces, so the Caruso proposal is 180 spaces shy of the requirements by which anyone else who plans to build in the county must abide.

If the county approves the Caruso proposal, overflow parking from the hotel will impact neighborhood streets — just as it has done near El Encanto hotel. With fewer than 140 spaces total available on Miramar Avenue, Eucalyptus Lane, and Humphrey Road — and 30-plus on average taken up by residents who rely on street parking — there are only 100 spaces remaining at current levels for community beach/surf public access between the freeway and the beach.

The parking squeeze at popular Miramar beach
Jen Lilienstein

Here’s a photo that shows what the parking situation looks like now on sunny weekends and surf days — without a serious parking shortfall at an adjacent hotel. If the County Board of Supervisors approves the Caruso proposed parking plan, it will virtually eliminate available parking for anyone who can’t afford to either (a) live near Miramar beach or (b) pay for a beach club membership.

Fortunately for all of us, the Montecito Planning Commission came up with a solution in February that better protects public parking near Miramar Beach for the whole of the Santa Barbara area; it ratchets back the Caruso group’s proposed entitlements until it can prove that spillover parking is not, in fact, an issue. Should it turn out the original Caruso parking predictions were right, it can get back to “business as usual” with 200 beach-club memberships and 400 event guests within 12-18 months. It can even petition for higher numbers, if the company sees fit.

If the Board of Supervisors inadvertently gets it wrong and promises higher numbers, we can never require the Caruso group to limit beach-club memberships and event attendance to lower numbers.

There is a potential solution in which all stakeholders benefit: a second level built over all or even part of the proposed East Lot, which would add on-site parking for more than 100 additional cars. It’s not even necessary to build this second level right away; Caruso could “design it in” with prebuilt footings so it can be added relatively easily and inexpensively if a predetermined “trigger threshold” should be reached. Having such a built-in pathway to additional parking if needed would not only protect parking close to the beach for the larger community, but it would also benefit the Caruso group, paving the way for increased event attendance and beach-club-membership entitlements. And as these entitlements increase, additional parking — with no other changes to the Caruso plan — would also benefit the county, resulting in more sales tax dollars in our coffers.

If public beach access is important to you, please make sure your voice is heard by sending letters and emails to the County Board of Supervisors before the hearing date and support the Montecito Planning Commission’s entitlement precautions. Your voice is crucial to the future of this project!


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