Public Invited to Share Opinions on Cruise Ship Program

By the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper


Thirty cruise ships were scheduled to arrive in Santa Barbara in 2022 – an all-time record number. When the City’s cruise ship program started, a small number would anchor off Santa Barbara each year. Despite the growing number of cruise ships, there has not been a robust opportunity for community discussion about this divisive program.

Cruise ships are floating cities that generate tremendous amounts of pollution to our oceans and atmosphere, and many of the ships visiting Santa Barbara are no exception.

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper is highlighting the environmental impacts of the cruise ship industry and calling upon the City of Santa Barbara to reassess and reduce the number of cruise ship arrivals to meet community environmental priorities.

Time for Public Participation

The Santa Barbara Harbor Commission is hosting a limited number of public meetings through its cruise ship subcommittee to collect input from the community about the direction of its cruise ship program. 

Channelkeeper invites you to join us at the subcommittee meeting on December 1st from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm to show your support for this cause. The meeting will be held in the waterfront classroom located at 125 Harbor Way.

The Air Pollution Control District of Santa Barbara County will also present information related to air quality and answer related questions at the meeting.

Ways to Get Involved

If you are interested in joining this effort, email with your name and contact info, and we will keep you informed about future opportunities to express your support.

Did You Know?

• Cruise ships may legally dump partially treated sewage, greywater containing harmful chemicals, oily bilge water, food waste, incinerator ash, and biosolids 12 miles offshore including within the Santa Barbara Channel.

• The average 3,500-passenger cruise ship emits up to 80 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere just while sitting at anchor for 8 hours offshore of Santa Barbara Harbor. These greenhouse gas emissions make it harder for Santa Barbara to achieve its carbon neutrality goals.

• Nutrients from discharged treated sewage, greywater, food waste, and biosolids can contribute to Harmful Algal Blooms, like the ones regularly occurring in the Santa Barbara Channel, which can cause domoic acid poisoning of marine mammals along our coastlines.

• Most of the ships visiting Santa Barbara employ the use of exhaust “scrubbers” to control air emissions when beyond 24 miles from California’s shore. Open-loop scrubbers produce tremendous volumes of toxic sludge, which is discharged as a common practice into the ocean.


Written by sbck

Santa Barbara Channelkeeper is a grassroots non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds. Learn more at

What do you think?


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  1. Covid ships -hasn’t anybody watched the news? Don”t get me wrong I love a good cruise. SB doesn’t need anymore tourists or pollution. The City receives about 15k+ per ship (more $ for pay raise or another position they can hire a family member for) How many small business’s benefit ? Watch the passengers and try to count the shopping bags( not very many)

    • Santa Barbara Independent had a write up about cruise ships a few years back and how very little revenue was generated for local shops and restaurants. Can’t locate the article, but I do recall the upshot was that the ships’ tourists weren’t spending nearly as much as people liked to bang on about. Trading our ocean cleanliness and air cleanliness for a paltry amount of tourist dollars isn’t smart. It’s not like we don’t already have busloads of tourists plus tourists driving here and coming in on the train.

    • Giz, the city receives $500k per ship from the company that runs the lines. The folks on the boat do not spend much in town. I’ve talked to many of them, many are disillusioned with promise of great retail shopping in town and they get back on the boat with their 99c store and Marshalls bags. They also get food and drinks aboard which is part of the huge amount of money they pay for. So no, they aren’t flooding our diners either.

    • ZERO – that’s what I was worried about. There’s not much unique or interesting shopping downtown. I am surprised though that passengers aren’t dining at local sea food spots. I’d think that would be big for a place like this. But yeah, if they’re not contributing much to our local businesses, then it’s starting to seem not worth it.

    • I know when City staff decided it was a good idea to increase the City income that would feed their future salary bumps, it was also determined that the Harbor would need to be cleaned up for the tourists. What happened? A smelly seafood business was relocated and illegally allowed into two improper zones by the Community Development Department. The City Attorney failed to perform his duties for removal and the business continues today. I wonder why?

    • You’re right @12:45, that isn’t the city’s role. Their role is supposed to be on our side, helping our businesses compete in the regional, national and global economies. Their role is to support and encourage the long-term prosperity of our city and the businesses that call it home; being anti-business by throwing up as much red tape as possible, and then some, goes against this.

    • VOR, anti small business? is that what you got from the posts? i dont see one post slamming people for having a small business. We just don’t have retail in town. SB sucks for shopping. We have to go to Santa Maria, SLO, and Ventura for retail or we shop online. the few small businesses in retail that we have downtown aren’t what people are shopping for, which is why they don’t last and aren’t really needed.

    • VoR: In relative terms, there is a financial incentive to keep properties vacant. Many landlords bought commercial properties when property values were higher and expected higher rents than they would get today. They also took out bank loans with those higher projections factored in. If a landlord rents a vacant property now, they would lock in a lower rate than they expected, and rental agreements can last for up to 10 years. Or they could take a loss on the property and renegotiate loans with the banks, claiming lack of ability to pay. Added to this is the universal reluctance of retail chains to agree to years-long commitments when brick & mortar retail is in steady decline.

    • VoR: What you’re advocating for is socialism. Favoritism and interference in the economy leads to distortions in competition, even on the local level. I cringed so hard when the last Potus promised an air conditioning factory he would help them expand, or that the coal companies would magically recover. It’s not up to the government to make that happen! At best they are false promises, at worst it leads to a system depending on the whims of random officials.

    • That’s exactly what I’m advocating against. What you and many are unware of, is that the favoritism and interference of the economy that is occurring if for the benefit major corporations (and not coincidently big political donors) and to the detriment of small business. They are gutting the middle class (small businesses) further increasing the wealth of the upper class and elite, and pushing more people into the lower class dependent on the government and the major corporations. I’m all for true socialism, where the means of production are controlled by the workers, NOT socialism that is controlled by the government which is NOT controlled by the people, as much as we like to pretend it is. Small-businesses are the closest thing we have to the workers controlling the means of production and they’re being decimated by Big Government policies.

    • “the land owners make it so expensive that retail just can’t sustain itself in town. that is the main problem.”
      I know this thread is about cruise ships but this statement above caught my eye. Our tax code must change so that there is no financial incentive/tax incentive to keep commercial real estate vacant. There are commercial properties on State street that have been vacant for years.
      And how about the Biltmore and Coral Casino? Zero income since the mudslide. Can you imagine the annual expenses to keep these properties in good shape?
      If there were no incentives to keep the properties vacant, then land owners would have to rent the property at fair market value which would create jobs for people and tax revenue for the city.

    • SACJON: Hyperbole and whataboutism are not valid arguments. Just because you can’t see the air pollution emanating from the ships doesn’t mean it’s not there. Diesel engines are what powers all the electricity on those cruise ships. As these ships sit there, diesel fumes are discharging out into our Santa Barbara air. We manufacture enough of our own air pollution here already. I think you’ll agree we don’t need cruise ships adding to it.

    • 2:54 – “Hyperbole and whataboutism are not valid arguments” – show me where I did either. In fact, the only one putting forth invalid arguments is you. I’ve asked a simple question and you’ve provided no answer, only deflection and now some ad hominem type response. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll wait for a proper answer before responding further.

    • PEBBLEHILL – I’m sure that’s true. What I was asking is if it has been documented. In other words, do we have definitive evidence that these cruise ship visits are harming our local ecosystem? Having some proof beyond “look at the smoke” would be helpful to those making the decision. Sure, they’re disruptive, smoky (while underway), and I’m sure dump waste further out to sea, but do they harm our air and coastal waters to such an extent that they will do irreparable, permanent and significant harm to our (and our animal friends’) way of life?
      If they do, then by all means they should be banned. But if not, then maybe we just put up with them and the temporary inconvenience/smoke, etc can be overlooked for the good of our city, who’s economy is based primarily on tourism. That’s the only question and point I’ve been trying to ask/make.

    • SACJON: All you need to do is go stand up above Leadbetter Beach, at Shoreline Park. Look at the filth coming out of the stacks on the cruise ships. You don’t think that’s affecting our air quality? Pay particular attention to when the ships are leaving, to see how thick the particulate matter is, fouling our air. Here’s some light reading for you:

    • 12:50 – I have. But I’m asking whether that smoke (like the smoke I see from cars, industrial buildings in town, etc) is actually degrading our local air quality? Is it such a detrimental source of pollution that it has changed our way of life? I am not convinced the answer is yes. If these were here longer and more often, I might be more inclined to believe so, but the transient smoke while they’re under way a few times a year doesn’t seem to be enough to disrupt our quality of life.

    • 3:58 – Exactly. My hesitance with jumping on the “ban the cruise ship” wagon as been the apparent lack of any proof that these ships are damaging (permanently and significantly) our local waters and air. Of course, they’re obviously discharging smoke into the air and likely waste into the ocean, but is it to the extent that our ecosystem is being actually damaged. I’d like to know that before pushing to ban them. The mentioned lack of significant revenue for local businesses is important, but not reason alone I think to ban them.
      We need also consider this – given that our City has been and always will be an international tourist destination, are we going to be OK with the increased flights and auto traffic and pollution and waste associated with these means of mass transit if we stop visits by sea?

  2. Last time I checked, we are a tourist town that relies on tourists for income. Lot of people spending money in SB on those ships. BTW, should we ban visiting cars while we are at it. Cancel culture run amok in the name of “save the planet” Live and let live I say. I love cruises. People love visiting SB.

    • we are in part a tourist town, and also are a town full of businesses and industry, agriculture, education. so no, we are not JUST a tourist town. In fact, any town can be called a tourist town…because tourists can and do bring $…but at some point you have to ask yourselves if it’s worth it. a city that caters to those that don’t live here and yet ignores those that do live here.

  3. A friend owns a small business here in SB County. He needs a standby generator to keep his freezers and refrigerators working during occasional power outages.
    This generator only operates when power is out and results in relatively low annual usage. In other words low annual pollution amounts created.
    The SBCo. Air Pollution Control District forced him to replace his well maintained and low hour generator at great expense because it did not newest standards. Emphasis on great expense to replace a well running and maintained unit.
    This for a generator that operates infrequently .
    How is that equitable for a local businessman , paying substantial local taxes , and employing local residents???
    The SB Co.APCD was very heavy handed with him while seeming to look the other way on other sources of greater environmental impacts. The APCD should answer for this type of inequity with real consequences and impacts on struggling local businesses.

  4. Yeah I think there’s a tendency for some to knee jerk as anti cruise ships. And I include myself in that. I will never want to be on one, and that probably makes me anti cruise ship in general. That being said, the question is how much they bring in to the local economy. I don’t think we really know what that value is.

  5. A lot of people have expressed concerns about the pollution generated by cruise ships. This problem is easy to solve. Cruise liners could make their ships substantially larger to accommodate large arrays of lithium batteries. This would be completely impractical for the distances ships travel, so these batteries and electric drive equipment would be in addition to the diesel power plant the ships already have. This “hybrid” arrangement would allow the ship to charge up its batteries while far off shore, then come in and leave under “clean” electric power. Of course, more diesel would be burned since the process of generating electricity and storing it in batteries is inefficient, but at least there would be no unsightly smoke visible from shore. It’s really the same concept as an electric car, create more pollution than a conventional engine, but do it somewhere out of sight.

  6. Voice of reason, so no back up generator needed when a SCE transformer blows ? When a car takes out a power pole. Any number of events can take out power. Most have nothing to do with the management of our state.
    The business owner sells food . His inventory is a sizable investment.
    Your bias against the state renders your moniker kind of a laugher on this one.


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