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No parking fees for Goleta Beach

Valley Voice 23 January 2004

By Jeff Jones, Voice Staff Reporter

Hordes of tourists and regulars to area state parks will be in for a monetary shock this summer, as California's budget woes recently forced increases in both daily and overnight user charges.

Just two weeks ago, the volatile scenario of charging visitors to park at county beach parks came before the Board of Supervisors. For the time, the proposal is off the table.

"The only reason we were looking at the potential for parking fees, including at Goleta Beach, is because of the uncertainty of state monies coming into the county," said Terri Maus, the director of the Santa Barbara County Parks Department.

"Any fee plan would have required significant studies and public involvement before anything could have been implemented even if deemed appropriate," Maus continued.

Starting July 1, many of the state's and county's most popular coastal camping sites will see hikes, of more than $10 a day in some instances, depending on amenities and proximity to the surf.

El Capitan, Refugio and Carpinteria campground officials are bracing for complaints, although a host of summer weekends and weekdays are filled to capacity with advance reservations.

At Carpinteria State Beach, which entertains an average of one million visitors annually, recreational vehicle hook-ups on Beach Row are scheduled to climb from $20 to $31.

El Capitan is going from $15 to $21, while Refugio State Beach will increase from $16 to $21.

Day-use fees for parking at the three state facilities, and the five others in the county, will double from $4 a carload to $8.

Just last January, California increased prices, following similar hikes a year before. Daily user prices went from $2 to $5, while overnight camping charges typically rose from $12 to $14.

Local camping aficionados believe those unable to afford out-of-town excursions will be impacted even more this time around.

Carpinteria is traditionally one of the most popular state beach camping parks. Visitors come from as close as Ojai, Santa Barbara and Goleta.

Campers and daily beach-goers enjoy the luxury of walking to Carpinteria's downtown stores and restaurants. Additionally, there's the peace of mind that comes with plenty of lifeguards at the family-oriented beach.

This summer, however, neighborhood residents may also see some negative impacts from fee increases. Those opting to avoid added costs may choose to use off-street parking where available, although that may mean a longer haul. There's no charge to walk into the area.

When the word gets out at the eight state parks in the county, Goleta Beach and other recreational spots also expect a spillover effect.

"We are assuming we will see more visitors at all of our parks," Maus said.

Some 1.5 million people annually use Goleta Beach County Park. During last week's brief January warm-up, grassy picnic spots, sandy beach hollows and the long wooden pier teemed with outdoor enthusiasts suffering from this region's version of cabin fever.

Facing deeper budget cuts, County Parks has new concerns over capabilities to keep up current levels of service if the numbers grow.

Routine tasks include mowing lawns, picking up litter and maintaining public restrooms at Jalama, Cachuma, Arroyo Burro, Rincon, and Lookout (in Summerland) within the County Parks system.

"We're going to have to do more with less but are very committed to doing a good job," Maus said. ""We'll try and find a way to make it all work."

In Goleta, winter storm warnings have forced officials to put staff on costly 24-hour watches. Savage El Niño waves and high tides have shown no mercy. Added expenses have included repairing park damage and putting up hazard-alerting orange fences.

But Maus and other staff members continue trimming the budget wherever possible without compromising visitor expectations.

This fiscal year's operating budget for Goleta Beach park is $305,000, with operating revenue expected to come in at $285,000.

County Parks' resources come from a percentage of the profits made by concessionaires who operate eateries and boat and kayak facilities, and rentals from the larger picnic areas.

Other money comes from the county's General Fund, but the exact amount remains unknown until the state finalizes its budget.

Susan Rose, the 2nd District's supervisor, says county cuts won't be bridged at the public's expense at Goleta Beach.

"From my perspective, the Board has taken parking fees off the table for all South Coast county beaches," Rose said. "And we want to keep it that way."

Rose said the county is projecting potential losses in state revenue in the range of $20 million. She said California has a history of taking away money from local jurisdictions.

"We may not be able to maintain levels of service across the board, including Goleta Beach, if we continue losing money from our General Fund," Rose said. "We will do our best to maintain our current levels of service."

Meanwhile, the president and founder of Friends of Goleta Beach and Park is pleased added costs aren't an option.

"The park accommodates many on fixed incomes, including seniors and the disabled," Nancy Graham said. "I have two granddaughters on my lap right now, and want to keep the beach free and open to them for years to come."