Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 25
County park commission decides against beach parking fees
BY JEREMY THOMAS
The people spoke, and the Santa Barbara County Park Commission listened, deciding unanimously on Aug. 23 to not support charging fees to park at eight county beaches.
After two public hearings in Santa Barbara drew scores of residents opposing the idea, the commission held its third and final, decisive meeting at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria. Due to overwhelming resistance from the public over the course of the meetings, members had little choice but to line up 5-0 against recommending the fees to the Board of Supervisors, to the cheers of those in attendance and watching live via closed circuit television.
“It’s been an amazing process. We’ve learned a lot from you, and there are too many adverse impacts to the process of collecting the beach parking fees,” said 4th District Commissioner Gene Petersen in explaining his vote. “We really have a unique opportunity here to support the people and continue to provide the access that everybody needs.”
Park commission chair Judith Dale, representing the 3rd District, called the hearings an example of “democracy in action.”
“I really appreciate the civic participation, and I certainly appreciate the passion, and those who had the courage to stand up and talk publicly about an issue that’s near and dear to your heart,” Dale said.
The proposal to charge hourly or daily fees for parking would have affected two beaches in the North County—Guadalupe Dunes Beach and Ocean Beach Park. Attendance in Santa Maria was sparse, but on the television screens from Santa Barbara, more than a dozen attendees held signs to protest the fees, saying they would disproportionately affect low- to middle-income populations.
“The natives are getting restless,” announced Summerland resident and surfer Tony de Groot. “We’re going a little crazy. These are not just a few beaches; these are the last beaches. And I’m about to go bananas.”
Opponents also expressed concerns that the fees would limit beach access. Of the more than 1,300 respondents to an online survey by the county, an overwhelming number—76 percent—said they would stop visiting the beaches altogether if fees were implemented, according to the county’s Community Services Department.
Despite the commission’s vote, the Board of Supervisors could still decide to institute parking fees, and will pick up the issue at an upcoming meeting in October. Commission members were adamant that their report to supervisors would “clearly reflect” the amount of public input against the idea, and encouraged community members to voice their concerns to supervisors.
“They need to hear from you,” Dale said.
Additionally, as asked to by supervisors, the commission considered recommending fees at other county parks. Again, all five members voted against it.
“I really feel at this stage, we cannot make people pay anything in these economic times,” 1st District Commissioner Suzanne Perkins said. “We have to learn to live within our budget.”