Archive » October 11, 2012
County sinks plan to raise beach fees
By Jeremy Foster, Staff Writer
A plan to charge for parking fees at seven county beaches was blown out of the water on Tuesday.
In May 2011, the Board of Supervisors asked county staff to look into a new rate structure that would have charged beachgoers $3 to $12 per day to park at Rincon Beach, Loon Point, Lookout Park, Arroyo Burro Beach, Goleta Beach, Ocean Beach and Guadalupe Dunes Park.
The plan sparked loud opposition. Earlier this year, the county held three public workshops on the issue, and all 86 speakers who came forward opposed the proposed fees, said Herman Parker, director of the county’s Community Services department.
The latest hearing was no different: several dozen speakers, including many who hoisted yellow signs with a circle slash through the words “beach parking fee,” told the board that the fees would deter low-income people from beaches and crowd nearby neighborhoods as people seek alternative parking.
Resident Heather Tiddens said the proposal was tantamount to a “fundamental shift in the flavor of who we are as a community.
“I can’t imagine saying to my family, ‘We can’t go to the beach,’” she said, “but we would have to pause and consider whether to go to the beach because we’d be paying.”
Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, who had put down his signature anti-fee cap and backed the proposal, fumed that the board was engaging in “keyhole budgeting” and had not embarked upon serious discussions about the county’s budget problems, as well as the state budget crunch that is already closing beaches. The board majority, he said, has consistently dismissed revenue-generating ideas at the peril of the “woefully unfunded” Parks Department.
“We’re in a crisis here, and it’s dishonest to not tell people what really is going on,” Caldwell said. “It’s easy to be a hero in October and a skunk in July when budget hearings come about. You’re not being honest and forthright with the fiscal condition of Santa Barbara County.”
Santa Barbara County is one of the few coastal jurisdictions in Southern California that doesn’t charge for beach parking. Jalama Beach, owned by the county, is one of the few local beaches that impose a day-use fee. The proposed fees would have been based on a sliding scale and or a flat rate, and would have pumped $800,000 a year into the cash-strapped county Parks Department, which cannot afford to make repairs to its aging infrastructure.
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf, whose district includes two of the beaches, said there had been an “outpouring of angst and incredible disappointment” that the board would even consider charging beach parking fees.
“Yes, there might be other cities that charge parking fees,” she said, “but I strongly believe that pubic access to our beaches is one of the foundations that makes Santa Barbara County special and unique.”
Wolf said a plan that would have a disproportionate impact on low-income people was “disgraceful.”
“My hope is that we’re done with this process, we will have a strategic workshop to look at other forms of revenue and once and for all just say we’re done with that idea,” she said.
First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said although the public “spoke loud and clear that this was unacceptable,” it was understandable that county staff would look for any and all options for enhancing revenue in a sour economy.
However, he shared Wolf’s concerns that the proposed fees would strip low-income people of one of the few free recreational opportunities available to them.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino voted against the fees because he thought the revenue generating plan was ill-conceived. Although revenue from the fees could have generated $1.6 million to $2.5 million annually, depending on how the fees were acquired, the costs of collecting them were roughly half those amounts. He also complained that while the county was ceding to the community’s opposition, it has had no problem encumbering small businesses with costly regulations.
And he took Wolf to task for what he considered an “over the top” response to the plan, saying what’s disgraceful is that county Parks Department has been put in a position of operating with less maintenance staff under the specter of more cuts next year.
“For everybody out there that’s holding a sign, I hope you’re here next year when we get to the budget process and we’re cutting this parks department down to the bone,” he said. “We keep talking about the quality of life in Santa Barbara County and I totally agree with that. The last thing I want to do is put in beach parking fees, but at the same time, when you go to the beach you want a nice, enjoyable experience.”
Responding to calls for the county to find more revenue, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr said there have been two missed opportunities in the form of an oil severance tax and a transient occupancy tax. “If we’re going to raise revenue, I think the first is through oil companies and then on out-of-town tourists,” she said. “If the public had been given those options first and they had not been successful, then I’d be more interested in looking at this.” firstname.lastname@example.org