County Orders Montecito Homeowners to Remove Obstructive Landscaping by Hot Spring Trailhead

The intersection of Hot Springs Road and E. Mountain Road in Montecito with a sign that reads "No Hot Springs Trail Access or Parking" [Google Maps]

Santa Barbara County’s Public Works Department reignited its stance against Montecito homeowners who place boulders, shrubs, and other landscaping along public roads in an attempt to deter visitors from parking near the Hot Springs trailhead.

The county issued letters on March 18 to eleven homeowners on East Mountain Drive and Riven Rock Road, instructing them to relocate the obstructions within 10 days.

According to the letters, residents must remove these items from the public right-of-way and seek an encroachment permit. Failure to comply could result in a daily fine of $850 along with any damages caused by the obstructions.

The public trailhead parking area fits about eight vehicles. When those are full, visitors park on the road alongside residents’ property. Most of these properties are large in size with various landscaping elements. The median home price in the area is close to $7.5 million, according to Redfin data.

Parking area at the Hot Springs trailhead in Montecito [Google Maps]
The issue began in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic when people were encouraged to get outdoors. Local trailheads, especially Hot Springs trail due to its natural pools, became popular with locals and visitors alike. The influx of hikers brought more cars than normal to the area, often parking on resident’s property or being half-in the roadway.

In response, residents installed large boulders, rocks, bushes, and signs to prevent and deter parking. In late 2021, Public Works sent notices to select homeowners advising them to remove the landscaping.

After several rounds of legal battles, in July 2023 the Court of Appeals overruled the local court decision and sided with the County in allowing the removal of rocks and landscaping in the public’s right-of-way on East Mountain Drive.

A Hot Springs Trailhead Parking Design & Construction Project project to create 12-15 new parking posts had already been in the works by the county, but four Montecito residents have petitioned to pause it to assess environmental concerns.

It’s unclear whether landscaping along E. Mountain Drive and Riven Rock Road were removed by the March 28 deadline. According to reports, the Public Works Department is communicating with residents on items that can remain and those that need to be removed.

Per the county’s letter, encroachments that may be permitted to remain within 10 feet of the pavement include mature trees and “boulders historically situated onsite and partially buried 40% or more, particularly those boulders adjacent to a buried, high pressure gas line.”

In the meantime, the news has spread throughout the states and overseas with coverage in the SF GateNew York Post, and The Guardian.

Edhat Staff

Written by Edhat Staff

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    • As a teen, I was hiking weekly in the 90s and there were ALWAYS parking issues. Tunnel Road was always a pain to park at and the homeowners were constantly yelling at us about parking. Not necessarily a new thing. Music, now with blue tooth devices, is definitely something new and annoying, agreed. Same with the poop bags. Honestly, I’d rather see a steaming dog pile on the side of the trail than a plastic bag. But yeah, more people lately in the outdoors makes it less quiet and peaceful than it used to be, but the parking has been a problem for a long time.

      I for one am glad that these homeowners are getting busted though. Blocking the public access out of pure selfishness is not cool. It’s about time they get some taste of the law.

      • Sac, i’m glad you touched in on that topic….dog poop bags. Hey, my dogs are ALWAYS with me, everywhere i go. ATTN Dog guardians, do NOT leave your dogs waste in plastic bags on the trail, or ANYWHERE. Most of you act like you “plan to return and retrieve it” which you don’t. I hiked up cold springs the other day with my dogs. I counted and collected 7 bags on our way down. Seriously guys/gals….if you can’t be responsible about this, maybe don’t bring your little toy dog on your hikes and leave it with a friend or at home. You make the rest of us look really bad and frankly its a slap in the face to those of us the would walk 5 miles holding the poop bag until we find a trash can. It’s plastic. IDC if you think your plastic bag is biodegradable (maybe in 20 years). Pick up after your animals…..

  1. Photo misses a lot of territory and doesn’t illustrate what it’s like up there on a sunny spring or summertime weekend day. Hopefully the county will balance this with a deputy to write tickets and a tow truck to remove cars encroaching private property and public right of way on those busy days. Remember that this started from driveways being blocked. Most of the time not a big issue but on some days it’s really a mess. During the pandemic and summer it’s not confined to the weekends Maybe the county should acquire a parcel nearby and build a parking lot and charge for parking based on zip code lol.

    • LONGTIMESB1 – Driveways being blocked is one thing, but you can’t obstruct the public’s right of way. Not sure you can tow cars in the ROW either, maybe? Either way, these landowners are in the wrong and it’s good to see the courts stand up for the public.

      The parking lot (small one) might be a good idea. How would zip codes factor into parking fees though? Only out of area hikers have to pay?

    • you just hate hikers don’t you? there may have been a few occasions where someone from out of the area had a fender sticking out of the parking space, dipping 6″ into their 15 foot long drive ways. i’ve hiked this trail extensively with my children. the home owners in the area are some of the biggest jerks in town. one of them has been putting up video cameras in the hot springs. yeah. let’s see you defend that. Placing boulders, in fact, paying someone to place boulders to block parking spots, is counter productive if they think it’ll prevent people from parking there. You bought the home knowing the trail was right there and it was a heavily used trail. This really makes me want to hate on Alvin and the Chipmunks as much as I loved them as a kid, their owner is one of the guys blocking the public from accessing a public trail….real nice guy….

    • ive seen this too. my friends truck was vandalized, one tire punctured too. however he had a video cam mounted on his dash board that caught most of the incident, and yeah, it was a local home owner. we had hiked up to 7 falls with our kids and came back. only gone for 3 hours, parked legally. three other vehicles had punctured tires as well.
      this was over a year ago (about two years now i think).
      hasn’t happened since, probably because they caught the guy

  2. My brothers and sisters, by public right of way meant places that are demised for vehicular or pedestrian traffic or parking. If you saw it on bad days and you are a partially reasonable person you would realize the nightmare. Certainly there are law breakers on both sides based on the comments here and I have no reason to doubt them. However the SB Sheriff will generally investigate a valid citizens complaint of assault or vandalism imo. Temporary bad parking or bad attitudes maybe not so much. The last sentence about a paid parking lot was a joke… I tend to think that increased tourist use of the trails is a big factor in all of this, not that it necessarily could or should be prevented. And it seems true that both homeowners and hikers have been over the top on this. IMHO it’s too bad that homeowners are trying to use environmental to prevent the parking that already underwent review – I think they should chill and accept. Public access of the trail isn’t going away unless the county sells it for billions. Those who think it’s cool and not that much of an inconvenience to block someone’s driveway or trash a neighborhood aren’t being nice – I hope their Mom’s aren’t reading it. Don’t hate because someone has a house that you perceive is nicer than yours. There might be someone inside who would love to trade you for your hovel and escape the madness of Mountain Drive forever.

  3. People must have known that the trail was there when they bought their homes. Makes me think of people who buy a home under a plane lane for landing and then want the airport moved. Share the beauty. Having said that, I hope people visiting the area will clean their litter and be respectful of the landowners there.

  4. You guys are all right about “demised” but you also knew what I meant. My English teacher wants to send each of you a personalized certificate in recognition of your expertise but it would be too much trouble. I’m not bright. Those sitting across the table at this very moment, have incessantly yet correctly pointed it out, now and in the past. Yet they remain here with hands out and mouths open, the scoundrels.

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