Even 65 acres of beachfront paradise has its drawbacks.
A rise in encampments and homelessness near The Ritz-Carlton Bacara in northern Goleta has officials and authorities talking about ways to relieve the situation.
“This parallels the homelessness issues we are seeing throughout the county, the bluff areas, especially those that are adjacent to populated areas,” said Raquel Zick, a spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
The issue came to the surface during the first week of September after Bacara management, concerned about overnight parkers in the Haskell’s Beach parking lot, decided to take action.
Bacara security placed no-parking fliers on vehicles that were parked in the lot early in the morning on Sept. 1.
“They can’t do that,” Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte told Noozhawk. “Many people in the community did not like the idea of building the Bacara there in the first place.”
Visitors had parked in the public lot that leads to Haskell’s Beach, just like they had since 2000 when the resort opened, to enjoy a morning beach walk. Some others, however, had parked their cars and RVs overnight. Rumors among Goleta residents quickly swirled that the Bacara would start to close the parking lot at night.
As a condition of approval, the county required that the Bacara maintain public beach access to the sand near the luxury resort, where celebrities and the ultra wealthy often gather to get massaged or to stay the night.
An RV parks in the lot at Haskell’s Beach near The Ritz-Carlton Bacara. Overnight parking typically would not be allowed, but Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered that authorities could not ticket for overnight parking during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)
The public trail and parking lot symbolize a win for the working-class Goleta community, a place where surfers can find a way to the beach and families can have quick beach access. It’s technically Goleta’s only beach, since Goleta Beach County Park is in county jurisdiction.
Bacara General Manager Steven Janicek told Noozhawk that it was an error to put the fliers on the vehicles.
“We made the mistake for two nights of putting a couple of fliers on a couple of vehicles,” Janicek said. “Our intention is to not do that.”
Still, Janicek said it is important to protect the experience for the guests and keep the areas close to the hotel clean and safe.
“We’re always diligent to make sure our guests and patrons of our restaurant and hotel have the safest possible environment,” Janicek said, adding that “we had overnight parkers and we weren’t sure that was allowed.”
Zick said overnight parking typically would not be allowed in that lot, but Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered that authorities could not ticket for overnight parking during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only the sheriff’s department can issue parking citations, but nothing for overnight camping.
She said sheriff’s deputies received two calls for service to Haskell’s in the past month and one other to the hotel. The hotel’s security, she said, typically handles most security issues.
“Bacara security tends to be on top of it,” she said.
Zick said the area has a fluctuating homeless population.
“Campers meander from one stop to another,” Zick said.
She said there isn’t really a specific problem with the Haskell’s lot, but “I believe there is an increase in homelessness, so we are going to see more homelessness.”
Gretchen Walker, director of sales for the Bacara, said the hotel has concerns about people spending the night in the lot and building up trash.
After the incident, Janicek and Perotte had a meeting. Perotte said that Janicek would need to work with the city to resolve the issues and not make decisions unilaterally. The conversations went well, she said.
The Bacara, however, is still looking to improve security. Janicek said they are looking at ways to enhance safety when guests go on walks.
“We are looking at all sorts of things,” Janicek said. “Maybe it is more gates, more lights, more cameras. You want to make sure your stay is safe for guests and patrons. There are campers, and people enjoying the beach late at night.”
He said authorities have been helpful.
“They have been unbelievably responsive and supportive, because we all want the community to be safer,” Janicek said.
Any permanent fixtures, such as a gate, most likely would have to get approved by the California Coastal Commission.
Perotte said the issue with the fliers has been resolved.
“We have always had really good relations with the executive directors there,” she said. “The can’t start locking the lot. It’s Goleta’s only beach.”