Access to several Santa Barbara County parks will become more costly this summer with proposed fee increases for day use and overnight visitors.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing Tuesday to review the results of a Santa Barbara County Parks Dept. analysis of current fees at Cachuma Lake and Jalama Beach parks. In a letter to the board, county staff recommended fee increases at both parks “to bring them closer into alignment with current market rates.”
“Next fiscal year, we’ll also have increasing service cost and [employee] salaries and benefits to pay,” said Mike Gibson, Parks Dept. business manager. “These include worker’s compensation and increased liability insurance rates.”
Cachuma Lake and Jalama Beach day use vehicle entry fees will be raised from $5 to $6, while annual day use passes will cost $55, a 22 percent increase from the previous cost of $45. The Parks Dept. estimates these fee increases, in addition to increased campsite rental rates, will generate an additional $409,000 of annual revenue.
While the board has yet to approve the new fees, Gibson said the board generally supported the need for increases. However, he said the board was concerned the day use vehicle entry fee for seniors and the disabled – a 39 percent increase from $36 to $50- was “too much.”
The last major fee increases occurred in February 2001 and December 1996. The Park Commission already approved the latest round of fees last April.
Gibson said the Parks Dept. periodically reviews fees to make sure all costs are covered and rates are comparable to competitors. The fees will take effect as soon as the board approves them.
Terri Maus-Nisich, Santa Barbara County Parks director, said the Parks Dept. will go back to the board in the next few weeks with a revision of the senior and disabled citizens fees.
“We don’t want to be the leader of the pack,” Maus-Nisich said. “But we don’t want to charge more or less than our competitors either.”
Maus-Nisich said state and local budget cuts have also led to a need for fee increases.
“We had to look if we were really covering our costs,” she said. “Camping fees haven’t increased in two years. The increased fees will help provide better service overall.”
Despite the increased costs, Maus-Nisich said she does not expect the fee hikes to significantly affect attendance.
“Overall, park attendance has grown every year for the past several years,” she said. “I don’t think [the fee increases] will deter our clientele.”
Maus-Nisich said Santa Barbara County parks attract a fairly stable group of patrons who seek recreational opportunities at Cachuma Lake and Jalama Beach that competing private and state parks cannot provide. County parks primarily compete with state beaches like El Capitan and Gaviota, as well as privately owned parks like the campgrounds at Lake Nacimiento.
Generally, Maus-Nisich said entrance fees at competing parks have been higher than fees at county parks. Currently an annual day pass at state parks costs $67, and single-day passes are between $3 and $5.