Santa Barbara City Council Pushes Back on Downtown Parking Meters and Fee Increases

Downtown Santa Barbara Parking Lot #10 (edhat file photo)

The City of Santa Barbara’s parking department is facing a looming financial crisis, which prompted discussions to explore alternative funding sources to avert a potential budget shortfall. With an estimated funding deficit of less than two years, the department is under pressure to find new revenue streams to sustain its operations.

Last month various options were deliberated, including the possibility of introducing parking meters in downtown Santa Barbara for the first time. However, this proposal encountered significant opposition from the community.

On Wednesday, the Santa Barbara City Council rejected a staff proposal to increase fees in parking lots, lessen the amount of free parking time, and introduce parking meters. Councilmembers stated implementing these suggestions would negatively affect local businesses, further detract community members from visiting downtown, and was overall insensitive and inequitable.

The parking department attempted to prove that over half of downtown parking visitors “took advantage” of current system by leaving before the free 75-minute window while about 20% utilize free street parking.

The city staff report proposed a “pay-by-plate” system for surface streets where a motorist enters their license plate number into a mobile payment or self-serve kiosk, selects the duration of their intended stay, and pays fees due. There would be no daily maximum with 15 minutes free and $1.50 every hour after.

In surface parking lots, it was proposed to reduce the 75-minute free period to 15 minutes free, and charge $1.50 for every 30 minutes after that while parking garages would reduce the free period from 75 minutes to 60 minutes with $2 per hour following.

To help offset parking costs for downtown employees the city proposed dropping the average $150 monthly parking permit rate to $70.

As it currently stands, the parking district operates as an enterprise fund, relying on its own revenue. With the projection of impending financial strain, the parking department presented its plan to the Finance Committee, advocating for the utilization of Measure C tax funds, which were approved by voters for designated projects such as street paving and the construction of the new police station.

The forthcoming decisions on the parking issue and the overall budget plan are scheduled for another discussion in June, with a deadline for resolutions before the start of the upcoming fiscal year on July 1.

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Edhat Staff

Written by Edhat Staff

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  1. Pay by plate would be perfect
    Notice how the article says “people would be less likely to visit downtown”?
    All tourists or transplants that just come to work here with registrations addressed to places other than SB, should pay, and residents should be free. Free cuz we live here and struggle to live here
    Also, we should be seeing Kamaʻāina discount for residents, which means we shouldn’t have to pay ridiculous markups on goods and services that are traditionally way overpriced for tourists
    It’s a thing, trust me, they do it in Hawaii when I lived there, New Orleans, North County San Diego and a couple other places I’ve lived
    There’s businesses that do this
    Thanks, have a nice day

    • That sounds like a good idea, actually; I’ve never heard of it. They’re already using the license plate cameras so it seems like an easy modification. Locals get the free 75 min, because it’s more likely they know where they want to go and spend their money. Visitors who accidentally pull into the wrong lot get a free 15 min to correct themselves, but otherwise are there to hang out and shop, window shop, eat, etc.

      One other thing about the plate cams, though. SBPD had requested open, warrant-free access to plate cam data, available to any officer at any time. The current process requires paperwork before they can access that data, and I think it should stay that way. I don’t want a cop accessing plate cam records except for official business.

  2. Since the parking department is losing money there seems there is a simpler solution — make all parking free and eliminate the parking department. No funding from the general fund or from Measure C needed.

    • I liked your idea, until I remembered that the parking structures and lots need some maintenance. We would have to fund that somehow. But yes! If we didn’t have to pay any attendants, wouldn’t that save a lot of money (and unfortunately put a few people out of work)?

  3. It’s the Staff, not the hourly attendants who are responsive to the public, that are costly, Public Works/ Parking Department, not the minimum wage folks.

    It’s they who devised these tone-deaf plans! It was interesting to see that the new parking manager who worked so hard for weeks, it was said, is a fierce bicycle proponent who founded Bici Centro! Maybe a hostility to cars coupled with a favoritism for downtown employees was at play here?

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