Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Reads 14562

By Anna Marie Gott

An open letter to the City Council of Santa Barbara:


The Hotel Californian would not have been approved if it had not agreed to build the public parking structure at E Mason and Helena and then permit the general public to park in it under the same terms as the City's own public parking lots. Unfortunately, despite a legal requirement to do so and a year of reports, the Hotel Californian is still blocking the general public from parking in the parking structure to ensure its guests and visitors have preferential access to parking. 

My question for the Council:

When will the Council say enough is enough and direct the City Attorney to take meaningful action that would ensure the Hotel Californian is prevented from excluding the general public from the public parking structure in favor of their guests and visitors to their hotel?

I first reported problems with the parking structure last summer and numerous times since. Nothing has changed. 

How do I know? July 6th I watched drivers being flagged down by two valets. Drivers were told there was no available parking in the parking structure but they could "wait." 

The effect of making drivers “wait” ensured that some drivers would leave immediately which other others “waited” or left after “waiting” and being denied access. All while there were EMPTY parking spaces in the parking structure.

Interestingly the sign read: OPEN.

I walked over to the entrance of the parking structure to see if it was full or if there were empty spaces.  Besides the empty handicaps spaces there were parking spaces available. (I took photos of the empty spaces.)

As I exited the parking structure a vehicle was "waiting" at the gate. The driver said the valet told him the parking lot was “full.” I told the couple about the free spaces I saw and what the hotel had done in the past. I asked the driver to call the attendant and told him what to say to get in.

The driver never got the chance to call the attendant at the Hotel Californian. One of the two valets "manning" the entrance of the parking structure to tell drivers to "wait" walked over.

The valet explained that the Hotel Californian's parking structure was installed with an electric gate system that could NOT determine when the parking lot is full, or not, based on the number of vehicles that entered or exited. This left it necessary for the valets to stand at the entrance and tell drivers the lot was “full” and they "wait" in line to get in.

When I said there were open spaces the valet said they must have lost count because they were “busy.”

The driver permitted entrance.

The excuse given was certainly inventive, but it was simply a new excuse to go with the others the Hotel Californian valets and management have used when they’ve gotten caught "red handed" preventing the general public from parking in the parking structure.

The Hotel Californian has a long list of things it does to prevent the general public from accessing the public parking structure. They include:

  • Rigging the touch screens to say the parking structure was for guests of Hotel Californian only,

  • The touch screen fails to work until a valet comes to help and taps the same button you just tapped to get a ticket,

  • The credit card machine won’t accept your credit card,

    • Why is a credit card required to enter the parking structure?

  • Call attendants tell drivers the parking structure is only for guests and visitors of the Hotel Californian,

  • Valets standing at the entrance saying the "Open" sign was broken and the lot was “Full,”

  • Valets and management saying the equipment was malfunctioning,

  • “Lot Full” signs placed at the entrance to the parking structure,

  • Cones placed at the entrance to block drivers from waiting to get into the parking structure.


Is the City Council done letting the Hotel Californian play its “parking games?” If the answer is "yes" please direct the City Attorney to take any legal action necessary to stop the Hotel Californian from preventing the general public from parking in the public parking structure when there are empty parking spaces inside.

If you want to weigh in on this issue email the City Council at [email protected]gov.

Do you have an opinion on something local? Share it with us at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat.

Login to add Comments


Show Comments
aragorn Jul 15, 2019 09:43 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

I do miss the old Santa Barbara from what I do remember when I was 3 years old in 1959, 1960's and 1970's because of what our elected officials of the city and county did to this historic city and county. From the past to the present. They ruined it because of self interest and backing up the developers. And now hard working class and middle class families can no longer afford to live here. I do remember families like that.

a-1563245309 Jul 15, 2019 07:48 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Overall, compared to most cities, our looks and feels pretty good. Come on look at the big picture.

a-1563210138 Jul 15, 2019 10:02 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

The La Entrada needed lanes of State St in order to meet the setback requirements . so they wouldn't have to change their design. A public parking lot was in exchange for the narrowing of State St. I don't recall the public having a say in this as the city left it off the agenda. We now have a traffic nightmare in the summer. We've lost street parking. The funk zone is being treated as though it is something new. No, that whole area used to flow together.
The city has no problem messing with the average Joe in town. If they wanted to, they could step in and require the same gate entrance and exit as all the other public lots in town. Drive around the funk zone. You'll notice very few and poorly place public parking signs. They don't want we the people parking there. One sign points people in the opposite direction. I can't imagine to what, unless its the train and bus parking lot.
Maybe this is something for the grand jury. Of course the city could ignore that too.

a-1563220938 Jul 15, 2019 01:02 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

JUL 15, 2019 10:02 AM. As a former member of Streets R Us, I can testify to the fact that more than a handful of people fought to keep lower State St. near Cabrillo Blvd from being narrowed to two lanes as it is now. Big Developer Money won the day. Let's all hope there's never a disaster or emergency that requires quick evacuation from East & West Beaches, Chase Palm Park and the pier.

a-1563210687 Jul 15, 2019 10:11 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

America only holds wars in far away lands. You know, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. This is nothing more than a parking kerfuffle. A brouhaha if you will.

BlueHorseshoe Jul 15, 2019 10:24 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

this is ridiculous, why do you people even engage with them? I've used that lot 100 times and never had a problem. you guys voted for the current regime running santa barbara, you hate that state street is dead and the bums have taken over, but you also hate that the hotels are here to bring in tourists who can support the restaurants & shops. for the last 30 years that place was a dump without a parking garage at all. just be happy someone made it nice. at least the californian is just lame with the parking spaces, not like they're throwing kids off a public beach or something truly worth freaking out about.

ZeroHawk Jul 16, 2019 01:29 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

bums have not taken over...will you people get off this!?!? There are no more than there have always been and in fact over the past 3 months, i have seen a massive decline. I live and work downtown. not that this was mentioned, but i will say this, the bums aren't peeing and pooping on state street either. this is due to dog walkers letting their stupid pets crap and pee in the plants on the sidewalk. my girls and i have gone downtown and noted this several times. 15 dogs in 3 blocks during a farmers market last week, deficating in the plants and peeing all over them...not bums. the bums are down by the fig tree, with maybe 1 or 2 on state street if i urge you to go downtown on two different times and look for dogs and look for bums and let us know what you see....

a-1563221154 Jul 15, 2019 01:05 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Public Parking Required for Approval. The area had little parking then and even less now. The hotel only has roughly 1 parking space per hotel room. No extra spaces for events. All the commercial spaces on State required parking for less intensive uses. The City required the public parking structure (1st 75 minutes free) with the same terms as City parking lots in order to permit the project. There are many problems with this. First, not enough parking spaces were required for the commercial spaces (restaurants need a lot of parking). Second, no spaces were required for employees. Third, no spaces were required for any events. Fourth, if you stay at the hotel and do not want to have your vehicle parked by a valet you're going to park it in the public parking structure. Fifth, there is no enforcement mechanism to easily ensure that the parking remains first come first serve. The bottom line, is that the city should have never have approve this deal. Finally, anyone with any common sense would have seen that with a parking structure under the control of the Hotel Californian that they would exclude the general public from parking in the parking spaces to ensure that their guests and visitors to their hotel would have access to parking and that everyone else would be denied whenever the Hotel California deemed it necessary. - They deem it necessary all the time. That wasn't part of the deal and the city makes bad deals like this all the time. - One with Paseo Nuevo is coming and it's much worse than this.

a-1563221851 Jul 15, 2019 01:17 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Damn. Now I feel obliged to go and park there, just to see if anyone gives me any guff.

ZeroHawk Jul 16, 2019 01:25 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

i did yesterday on my way home from work (i work nearby actually). I was told the same, there was no parking. On a Monday night? Because you know...Monday nights are just so busy...i got out of my truck, walked around the "valet" attendant, and pointed out, in clear view, several open parking spots. He shrugged and said he was told to turn some people away....wth

SantaBarbaraObserver Jul 15, 2019 01:23 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

I am all for fairness but in reality, there is no parking shortage anywhere in SB. Honestly, if you cannot walk the extra block or two, you should have a disabled placard and thus have no problem finding something close by to your destination. Otherwise, find something more important to complain about whether you can park as close as possible to your chosen destination, whenever you want... This city sold out its soul and its citizens for cheap tourism dollars based on tax gifts and cheap labor years ago. They need the campaign donations and the tax revenue to pay for their gross mismanagement. So if you voted for any of the current batch of officials in office, especially Murillo, its on you. You were warned, but you chose party over principles and elected a wet noodle.

PitMix Jul 15, 2019 03:43 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Check out that lower westside neighborhood bounded by the 101, Carrillo, and Cliff Drive on the weeknights. It's very dense and very crowded. I bet there are some fun disputes over parking. Once the ADUs and AUDs are built out, most of SB will look like that.

FredMertzEE Jul 16, 2019 01:27 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

I have parked at that facility probably more than twenty times and have never encountered any of those problems, except that the lot was full on one occasion. The claim of being able to see the parking area from the entrance also isn't true. Same with having to use a credit card to enter, at least in all of my times parking there. And many of the assertions seem like tinfoil hat conspiracy theories, such as "rigging the touchscreen."
Really? Finally, does it really seem all that unusual or suspicious that the lot would be full on a popular holiday weekend? I guess when all you look for is problems you can find them anywhere, even when they may not exist.

pxn Jul 16, 2019 02:12 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

We need to join up to only elect council members and a mayor who will end the Cox monopoly. Lots more money at stake for us on that!

PitMix Jul 16, 2019 03:23 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

So many rules, so few enforcers. If someone decides they don't want to play fair, they can usually get away with it until you find someone in the bureaucracy that actually cares.


Please Login or Register to comment on this.