Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

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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.

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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.

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!

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.

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.

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

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.

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-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.

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.

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.

PitMix Jul 15, 2019 09:11 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

In the old days this kind of reporting would have been done by the News Press. Unfortunately that business model is no longer valid, and we have to rely on concerned citizens with the time and resources to follow up on these issues and publicize them. If sunshine is the best disinfectant, where will our free press sunshine come from in the future?

a-1563306983 Jul 16, 2019 12:56 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

It's the water, made everyone's spine weak. ref. response to recent comments by the current president of the White House

a-1563221485 Jul 15, 2019 01:11 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

The "people" who cared to "correct the injustices" got old and worn out. Or have already passed on. If I never attend another City Council/Planning Commission/City or County Parks Dept/County Supervisors/Architectural Board of Review meeting ever again in my life-----I will die happy. It is time-sucking, generally unrewarding, frustrating, anxiety-causing and downright depressing to take time out of one's life to fight the good fight. Mostly, it is a lost cause unless you can rally the masses. The masses now are from elsewhere and have no personal investment in keeping things nice. They all came from places where things are worse than here, so they say, "Well, it's still better than . . ." Yes, I sound like Debbie Downer, I know. Just sharing my disenchantment with trying to protect Santa Barbara.

REX OF SB Jul 15, 2019 07:52 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

I've never used that parking structure, but it would seem the problem could be easily solved by having a full-time City parking attendant on duty at all times, which would assure there would be no further shenanigans from the hotel. There are attendants at all the other City lots, so why not this one?

Ehdat Jul 15, 2019 07:33 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Locals all know there is easy available parking just one block away for just a cheap 10 bux a month pass. This war on private property is a waste of time, but thanks for sticking up for the lost tourist.

Ehdat Jul 15, 2019 01:11 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Wrong. Private parking lot. Conditioned to allow for public parking. Also the City did not drop lanes for their set backs. There was no parking before on State. It was to improve and widen the public sidewalks. State Street is 2 lanes for a couple miles, north of Gutierrez, there is no need for 4 lanes. Those City people just did a huge study of the funk zone, and found as a result that there was plenty of parking if you know where to go. Gott lady is right about the problems with the lot, but she also loves fighting the City, and has way to much time on her hands. I wish she would spend more time on getting the price of craft beer cheaper for us locals!

a-1563216386 Jul 15, 2019 11:46 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

It's not private property, it is a 100% public parking garage that the City has allowed the hotel to use on a first come first served basis.

a-1563167487 Jul 14, 2019 10:11 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

That video, wow. "The system does not actually count spots"... Lol, uh, yeah bud, it does. Cars aren't magically entering and leaving the structure without going through the gate. You know, the gate that counts the cars entering and leaving, and changes the light from "open" to "lot full" when it exceeds 123 (total number of spots). The deal made with the City is that all the parking is first come first served, regardless of public or valet/hotel guest status. What a scam. Folks, if that light says "open", stand up for yourselves - we paid for this lot!

a-1563169368 Jul 14, 2019 10:42 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

False promises. Rigged system. Government giveaways. Santa Barbara is just as bad as Washington DC. Vote them all out. Recall the Mayor, Cathy Murillo!

andrewbaker77 Jul 14, 2019 09:02 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Congrats SB. You banned AirBnB - locals who rent out their own rooms/houses, so you could get this - corporations who take over your rights.

biguglystick Jul 16, 2019 08:24 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Andrew, if your'e complaining about the city clamping down on STRs that means you are a homeowner who wants to ca$h in on the STR boom and you are already wealthy if you own a home in SB and you've got the means to build it out into a short term rental. Short term rentals have further driven the crippling housing crisis for locals who do not own. This is GREED, pure and simple. You want more than you could get for a long term rental. Shame.

letmego Jul 15, 2019 09:44 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Um, whenever I travel and rent an AirBNB, I drive a car. But...only one car, and we rent SFH or apartments/ condos. Now, of course I'm sure that it's not always the case (some houses prob get multiple cars). My SFH has two off street spaces though...

PitMix Jul 15, 2019 09:08 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Fail to see how short term rentals doesn't cause more parking problems on our local streets in addition to corporations taking over the parking garages. None of those short term rental people coming to party in SB drive cars?

a-1563159557 Jul 14, 2019 07:59 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

SB Voters choose to subsidize corporate business with give aways including State St multi-million parking garages. WHY do locals pay to build and staff fgarages? The voting sheep majority love Gail Landis, DNC Chief and they do as ordered.. DNC Party Boss Gail Landis controls all but 2 on SB Council. Only Dominquez and Rowse can think and vote independently. Gail Landis has repeatedly published her orders for: housing, more tenant subsidized housing to their lesser neighbor,, free overnight parking for vehicle Dwellers, less public lot parking except for tourists, more free street parking, and fee increases passed by 51% versus 2/3 majority or 67%. Public defication, urnation, drug injecting, and formication are OK. Watch who you voters select this November! The DNC Slate.!! There will be 7 DNC puppets versus only 5 now. Council puts last SB local citizens , our vets, mentally ill, and elder homeless . Tourists and illegal migrants are Council priorities. SB will do everything possible for their favored identity groups. Fund & VOTE Gott and find us 5 more candidate who are not DNC. No More Controlled Desperados. Otherwise, give it up: move! Thanks Gott! 700 houses dropping in price.

a-1563307664 Jul 16, 2019 01:07 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Simple: Assign a staff member from city planning department to man the kiosk, rotating four hour shifts, every staff member gets a turn.
The best teacher is to personally experience the results of their failed planning.

Luvaduck Jul 15, 2019 08:34 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Made me giggle. You're right. While public fornication might entertain some, hardly anyone is amused by stinkos, not even other stinkos. <G>

Luvaduck Jul 15, 2019 08:33 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Made me giggle. You're right. While public fornication might entertain some, hardly anyone is amused by stinkos. <G>

a-1563165975 Jul 14, 2019 09:46 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Loopholes & NO Enforcement. City won't keep or fund a functioning enforcement department. Documentation is lax. Work or business operations contine. Fines go unpaid. Little is fixed. It's forgotten or "abated" and repeated. The result? More of the same. Businesses encroaching into neighborhoods. Noise. Lack of parking. Illegal construction. Tax evasion. Health and Safety issues... The city is messed up. Needs a total overhaul. Those DCC Dems (Murillo, Friedman, Harmon, Gutierrez and Jordan) won't do a damn thing for residents. It will all be about pushing one bad decision after another for the rich, powerful and politically connected who fund their campaigns while they told crumbs to residents. Santa Barbara is in the grip of those who only care to strip Santa Barbara of it's beauty and charm in order to enrich themselves. People need to get organized and revolt or all we love is lost.

shorebird Jul 14, 2019 09:04 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Did you mean fornication instead of formication. Fornication can be public problem. Formication is a personal problem.

a-1563163161 Jul 14, 2019 08:59 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

It's not a terrible deal, should the rules be followed and the public not denied access to public property. TOT brings in a lot of money to the City, I can see why this deal was made in the first place. BUT, Hotel Californian has soured the deal. They have some explaining to do, that needs to include an actionable plan to NEVER let this happen again.

420722 Jul 14, 2019 04:00 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

I would love to see Anne Marie run for mayor of SB. She cares about issues big and small for RESIDENTS! Something I don’t think our current mayor really gives a crap about but that’s my own personal opinion.

a-1563200964 Jul 15, 2019 07:29 AM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Does the mayor whoever it is have that much more power than other council members? Seems like a lot of mayors are scapegoated for the decisions of the entire staff.

Red Creek Jul 14, 2019 09:12 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

It would be refreshing for a SB mayor or councilperson to stand up to vested interests in tourism and business and work for the people of the City who live here.

aragorn Jul 14, 2019 03:37 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Anna Marie Gott should represent District 6 as SB City Council Member. All those who reside in District 6 please write in Anna Marie Gott's name on your ballots this coming November, 2019. I am. "VOTE FOR ANNA MARIE GOTT FOR SANTA BARBARA CITY COUNCIL DISTRICT 6!"

flusher Jul 14, 2019 03:28 PM
Parking Wars at Hotel Californian

Perhaps an additional 15-20 “legal” parking spaces can instantly be made available if a majority of business owners would remove obstructions/barricades/no Parking signs from the public right of way on Helena Street (between Cabrillo and East Mason) adjacent to the parking structure in question.
One business uses (blocks) the sidewalk and ADA compliant ramp to store trolly bikes.
Think about it;
15-20 parking spots could be reclaimed overnight!

The City right of way is right up to the existing buildings, meaning that “NO” private parking is possible.


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