Santa Barbara Waterfront Business Manager Brian Bosse (center) presented recommended adjustments to harbor parking policies to City Council on Tuesday. (October 8, 2019) | Credit: Paul Wellman

Some have been parked there for years: sedans packed with personal belongings, big vans surrounded by weeds poking through the asphalt, and old Volkswagen buses caked in cobwebs and rust. Though these few dozen mainstays of the Santa Barbara waterfront are eyesores that eat up precious public parking, as city officials and residents alike have complained for a long time, they’re fully legal under the current permitting system.

That changed Tuesday with a vote by the council to overhaul waterfront rules so that vehicles with “blue” parking permits —  which are $95 a year for harbor slip owners and originally intended to accommodate multi-day fishing trips — can’t “abuse the privilege,” explained Acting Waterfront Director Brian Bosse. Now, blue-permit cars that sit in any of the eight waterfront lots for 30 consecutive days must vacate their spaces for 96 hours before returning. If they leave at any point during the 30-day window, even for a short while, the clock starts over. 

Bosse explained demand for waterfront parking has grown significantly over the last decade, with the emergence of the Funk Zone, the reopening of lower State Street, and an increase in the popularity of water sports like kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. The lots have gotten so crowded and backed up, he said, that the city is frequently forced to close them, sometimes for hours. It did so 38 times this summer, generating a “huge number of complaints,” he said.

Recent public workshops identified issues just as pressing as blue permit misuse. The oil industry workers who normally park at the Casitas Pier, which has been closed due to repairs, have been using Santa Barbara lots. (The pier work is scheduled to finish this month.) Local tech companies have attempted to secure daily permits for hundreds of their employees; landscape and taxi operators also try to take advantage. Oversized storage vehicles are now more commonplace as well. 

To address those points, the new rules give the city’s Waterfront Authority the legal standing to approve and deny permits in order to protect public visitor access. They also place size restrictions of vehicles that can stay overnight. Specific exemptions will be made for the harbor lot, said Bosse, including for commercial fishing operations, harbor businesses, and oil spill response.


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