Council Votes to Limit Santa Barbara Cruise Ship Visits to 20 Per Year

Cruise ship docked outside of Santa Barbara (Photo: Downtown Santa Barbara Organization)

During Tuesday’s meeting the Santa Barbara City Council agreed to reduce the the number of cruise ships that visit to 20 per year.

Discussions have been ongoing for several years between the Harbor Commission and various groups to environmentally improve the twenty-year program without compromising annual revenue.

The Waterfront Department established the Cruise Ship Program and welcomed its first visiting ships in 2002. Since that time, Santa Barbara has hosted numerous ships, typically seeing between 15 and 30 visits per year.

With few exceptions, cruise ship visits are limited to non-peak tourist months of September through May. In 2023 there were 22 cruise ship visits to the Santa Barbara waterfront and 30 visits in 2022.

Ship sizes vary from 250 to 3,500 passengers but, typically, not all guests come ashore. The Waterfront Department collects a fee of $15/passenger (raised from $10/passenger on July 1, 2023) from visiting cruise ships. This fee is based on manifested passengers regardless of whether they come ashore.

This amounts to roughly $500,000 in direct annual revenue for the Waterfront Department. Visit Santa Barbara estimates a positive economic impact from visiting cruise ships of roughly $3M to $5M annually to local businesses.

Over the past two years, the Cruise Ship Workgroup and Waterfront staff have held public meetings aimed at gathering input on the impacts, benefits, regulations, and practices of cruise ships visiting Santa Barbara.

At the February 15, 2024 meeting, the Harbor Commission received input from Waterfront staff and the Cruise Ship Workgroup and made recommendations on improvements to the Cruise Ship Program going forward. Harbor Commission reviewed a list of 20 program improvements. Many of the recommended improvements were largely informed by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, as well as input from the public during the Cruise Ship Workgroup process.

There were 15 workgroup recommendations unanimously supported by Waterfront staff and the Harbor Commission that included suggesting ships be equipped with Advanced Wastewater Treatment Systems by 2025, continue the local requirement of no discharges of any kind within 12 nautical miles of Santa Barbara, reducing ship speeds, several encouragements of the ships integrating with local businesses, continue charging increased fees, and scheduling visits during the weekdays and prohibit visitation during peak tourism months.

The following workgroup recommendations were not supported by Waterfront staff:

  • Establish a limit of twenty (20) annual cruise ship visits
  • Prioritize cruise ships without scrubber technology or with closed loop scrubber technology
  • Prioritize cruise ships with shore power connectivity
  • Prioritize cruise lines with exemplary environmental compliance records
  • Maintain the Cruise Ship Workgroup

“Staff do not support an artificial cap on visits as there are currently no operational limitations with the program at this time. Additionally, cruise ships typically book 1 to 3 years in advance and often cancel or reschedule dates. This would make administering a hard cap on visits difficult and cause impacts making a specific target difficult to attain,” according to the Waterfront Department’s report.

The report went on to state that ship size varies and the scheduling options are already limited so imposing a further restriction could make “revenues volatile.”

Environmental agencies such as the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and Environmental Defense Center supported a cap on the cruise visits.

Brian Trautwein with the Environmental Defense Center stated the Santa Barbara Channel is valuable resource for the recreation, tourism, and the fishing industry, but cruise ships threaten it.

“Historically, people have been arriving in Santa Barbara via ships, I guess you could say since its founding by Europeans,” said Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez. “It’s not something that is too alien, but what is different is the amount of impact that it is has had on the environment.”

Councilmember Kristen Sneddon agreed stating these large cruise ships do fit with Santa Barbara.

Only Mayor Randy Rowse opposed the decision stating there were too many restrictions. The rest of the council voted to cap visits at 20 per year and nearly all of the workgroup recommendations including the development of an “environmental best practices” for visiting ships.

Edhat Staff

Written by Edhat Staff

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  1. The pollution both in the air and in the sea that these ships create does not equitably approach any “benefit” that they bring to basically tawdry businesses in the State Street corridor. The whole of the Central Coast pays for this. Only a few come out ahead. And we must understand that the pleasure of these folks is no more real than that of the person who believes in the mythology of Disneyland. Let them stay home and watch travel videos.

    • Wow RHS, that’s some pretty snobby stuff to say about people who travel differently than you. And you used to accuse me of “misogyny” for merely expressing pride in a local school.

      To profess to know others’ idea of pleasure is the epitome of narcissism and snobbery.

    • You detract from your valid points with nonsense about people’s pleasure not being “real” and believing in the mythology of Disneyland. Do you somehow think that the only people who enjoy Disneyland are those who believe that Donald Duck and Goofy are real?

      • It is not that “other people’s pleasure” is not real. It is that it is manipulated and created by huge/pervasive social pressure and lies funded by those who will make a big profit off of the fantasy. Disneyland is particularly offensive as the corporation aims its lies at children and coopts parents in this activity. Las Vegas is a similar adult con but at least they are allegedly able to think for themselves. Unfortunately greater society is then called on to pay for the damage these manipulators engender. People who decide that these sorts of recreation are their thing should pay the whole cost of that recreation. That includes especially not creating environmental damage. This would, of course, mean that tour costs would be higher but isn’t that supposed to be just?

  2. To the SBA City Council:

    I have been against cruise ship visits here for many years. Cities around the world, including Venice, a city that makes our tourism industry look like the head of a pin, is banning cruise ships. Kudos to Kris for seeing how dangerous cruise ship emissions are to public health. The closer that people live to a harbor, the more unhealthy the air that they breath. This is not my opinion alone, it is published undisputed scientific fact! Check it out on the net.

    I sent the following email to you in February and Kris was the only council member to respond. Das and I have battled city councils over cruise ship visits for far too long, yet this council even increased them. You have now capped cruise ship visits here to 20 per year. 20 cruise ships anchoring here are 20 too many!

    {You on the council are uninformed on the health dangers that Bunker Oil brings, either this or you know the undisputed scientific facts and don’t give a damn!

    Bunker Oil: The process to produce oil involves several refining processes where the lighter hydrocarbons are extracted. What is left behind and is a sludge-like residue made from the end of the oil refining process. It is dense (similar in viscosity to peanut butter) and is known to contain a range of toxins that cause multiple health issues. In vessels, Heavy Fuel Oil has to be mixed with lighter fuels like Diesel, to help it float.

    Cities all over the world are removing cruise ship operations from populated areas because of their adverse health effects.

    You brilliant people refuse to honor the facts. The good news is that until you act, when a cruise ship anchors off Santa Barbara burning this poison, you and your families, including your children shall breath the same highly polluted bunker oil air as the rest of us! Wake up!}

        • Not a necessity, LAX is 90 miles away. Why have the excessive pollution here? Again, nobody wants to talk about how much noise pollution and exhaust pollution SBA is creating, yet it seems odd, being people are worried about switching to EV cars, while pumping out around 5% of global warming exhaust from commercial airlines.

          • So, just close SBA and fill the 101/405 with more airbuses and thousands more cars a day full of tourists, business travelers and locals going on vacation?

            How about our annual wildfires? Air suppression can just make the flight from LAX or Santa Maria while we wait and watch homes burn?

            Nah, SBA is vital to our community, sorry not sorry.

            As for EVs, it’s absolutely possible to be concerned about both car pollution and air pollution. Once again, comes down to necessity. Air travel/transport is necessary, driving a car with an IC is not, unless you’re towing something massive and maybe not even then with today’s tech.

            • Wildfires are already fought by planes flying out out Santa Maria?
              SBA discontinued the firefighting planes years ago.
              My point is there is no need for increased flights out of SBA, the freeways are going to be full regardless, and would rather the pollution be in L.A.
              Many folks are now driving from out of town to catch SBA flights, only increasing pollution in our town and traffic.
              SBA is not vital, it is a pollution creating mess locals don’t want, and only SB gets the revenue due to an illegal annexation, while Goleta residents get the noise and smog pollution.

              • I disagree that local’s “don’t want” it. While expanding the airport might not be necessary, SBA is.

                And yeah, freeways are full, so why add to the traffic. The pollution from freeway traffic is FAR more disruptive and devasting to the local communities living within yards of the tens of thousands of idling, oil burning engines along the 101 every day than it is from a few planes above.

                No thanks.

                • Being you are not a local, I am not surprised.
                  Please look at the number of flights out of SBA currently, and how many they are proposing.
                  First flight to Denver at 5:20 am – there is not one person in the area that wants to hear that flight blast off every morning or the last flight at 11:30 PM, again not warranted.
                  A few planes? this is downright comical.

                  • LOL now you’re starting up again with the wannabe insults. “Not a local?” You don’t know squat. I live within a few miles of the airport and have for about 17 years, after growing up here and being born here in 74, so you might have a few years on me, but rest assured I’m as native as it gets.

                    And yeah, when compared with the hundreds of thousands of cars that pass through on the 101 DAILY, it is just a FEW planes.

                    Good luck shutting down SBA. You might want to invest your time and effort into something even remotely feasible, but hey…. go for it.

                    • I know you are not a native of SB or Goleta, you posted it yourself?
                      There are close to 30 commercial flights still to depart and arrive just TODAY as of 3PM.
                      Not counting private planes – it is not a FEW flights.
                      Go for it I will, the annexation is illegal, and folks in other states have challenged and won local rights to airports, harbors, etc. to prevent over-expansion.

                    • GOLETA – have you actually initiated and effort in some capacity to shut down SBA? How would you go about doing that?

                      I can agree on preventing expansion to an extent, but how do you plan to have the entire airport shut down?

                      Looking at this thread, there seems to be a lot of folks who agree with you. Maybe you all start a petition? Good luck.

                    • GOLETA – trying this again. You are incorrect about me. I’ve said it many times. I was born here and grew up here. Not that it means anything, but I want to correct your misunderstanding since you insist on saying things about me.

      • You are 100% correct. Commercial jets spread tons of unburned jet fuel as they take off and land. These killer particle spread miles over our city.
        Once jet fuel, diesel fuel and bunker oil particles stick to lungs, they never leave. The growing lungs of children are the hardest hit and thus the sharp increase in children’s asthma! In some people they cause cancer.

    • Few other cities can or should be compared with the world jewel that is Venice. It’s a jewel that is being destroyed by a rising sea — and hordes of tourists. A cruise ship in Venice, see the photos, is hideous! The wake of motorized boats is damaging the ancient and they are wise, if belated, in banning such monster ships.

      Santa Barbara is on an open coast — and I did not hear any statistics showing exactly how much pollutants come specifically to Santa Barbara from, specifically, cruise ships. Initially, it was said that the cruise visitors trash the beaches but that was subsequently not shown to be so. That there are emissions, air and probably sea, in the channel is probably so but it was not shown that these are specifically tied to specific cruise ships. However, I did not watch all the hearing or read all the staff et al reports — I need to do that. That there will be fewer visiting cruise ships visiting SB would seem to make little difference to any but the vacationing visitors.

      • Specifically, BIRD, you need to go hang out at Shoreline Park, overlooking Leadbetter Beach and see the amount of filth that spews from those smoke stacks. Load an app on your phone that shows you AQI (air quality index) and notice how the air quality takes a nose dive whenever the cruise ships are here. How do you think the ships power everything, all of those lights? The air conditioning? Diesel engines. MDO (marine diesel oil). Santa Barbara is known for its beauty and sunshine. We don’t need to be fouling the air with these polluters.

    • Far too many don’t get the connection between air pollution and ill health. I think, without a doubt, this is one of the most inept and irresponsible City Councils Santa Barbara has had in a long, long time. I really miss Mayor Lodge and Mayor Miller. Those ladies cared about Santa Barbara.

  3. I think few of us Santa Barbara citizens see any direct benefit from the cruise ship program. Wherever the revenue is going it doesn’t appear on our radar. Take state street – it’s a big mess. Sure, a number if businesses around the waterfront get a little hit when the ships show up. That seems pretty limited. Maybe the money is getting sucked up into the bureaucracy at City Hall. It sure doesn’t appear to be providing any benefit to the average local citizen.

  4. It’s all about complacency and covering the Waterfront budget. They rely on guaranteed $500, 000 each year from cruise ships to cover their budget.

    They know cruise ships pollute the air, ocean, marine life,. They cause lung disease, create algae blooms, have been charged 40 million million plus for Environmental Crimes by the DOJ (Carnival which owns Princess and the Discover Princess scheduled for a visit in our harbor 2024). We can tell them the facts, however their priority is their budget.

    So let’s list sustainable events where they can make $500,000 profit annually, $54,000 a pop for 20 events at the water front
    My suggests

    World class annual beach volley ball ($54,000)

    Annual world sand castle competitions ($54,000),Beach%20Master%20Sand%20Sculpting%20Competition%20…%20More%20items

    Music Festivals $54,000
    World Cup Sailing $54,000
    Now you suggest, 16 more events with $54, 000 profit to save our oceans from cruise ships

    And yes in addition all these events profit commerce in the city. Let’s stop the complacency to cover the
    the water front budged. With cruise ships.

  5. No one is trying to “shut down” the airport. There’s a limit to everything. Some of us don’t want Orange County here. That’s the issue. And someone who consistently calls people with whom they don’t agree a liar, well I’d say that’s pretty sad.

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