Popular Oceanfront Park Grapples with Reservations

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August 18, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Jalama Beach County Park, Santa Barbara County, Calif.

To give local users an edge on summer campsites at Jalama Beach County Park in California's Santa Barbara County, 4th District Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joni Gray is proposing to limit a new online reservation system to the offseason for the popular campground, the Santa Maria Times reported.

“We agreed to the reservations because the (county) parks folks indicated that they wanted to make sure and get it full, and that people weren’t coming because they didn’t know whether they could get in,” Gray said this week.

“But we’ve had enough users indicate that it’s absolutely full in the summertime, and that’s the goal.”

Gray plans to bring the issue back to her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors at a future date.

On March 15 the board approved a new fee schedule for the county’s parks, which raised some costs and included with it additional park services such as free Wi-Fi and the option for online reservations.

Interim county Parks Director Brian Roney said this week that the software is being prepared to handle the online reservations, including the individual campsites at Jalama Beach, and that the system will likely be ready to go by the end of the year. The system would operate much like the one used by the California Parks Department.

While you can still walk in and pay cash for a site, the reservation system is necessary, he said, because with its tight finances the county no longer has the staff to make reservations over the phone.

Nor does it have the staff to handle the crush of people who wait at Jalama Beach during the summer months to secure a campsite by putting their name on a list, he said.

Called “camp call” by locals, the process in place at Jalama can be adverse to anyone not living near the campsites. If campsites are filled, campers put their names on a waiting list, and a roll-call is then taken in the afternoon.

Campers who are called must be present, and may then choose from available campsites. If they miss the roll-call or cannot be physically present, they are out of the running.

Roney said many people drive to the campground just to move their name up the list.

“We don’t have the parking capacity for people to drive out there just for that camp call,” he said. “It creates a traffic and safety problem. People can still camp without a reservation, but camp call will change.”

It’s not about making more money, Roney said of the changes, it’s operational.

But many local users of Jalama Beach say a reservation system for the individual campsites will shut out county residents and eliminate the spontaneity of being able to pick up and head to the beachside campground with assurance that a place to pitch a tent will be available within a few days.

“It takes about 20 minutes to book the group campground for the entire summer, so if you don’t get that small window of opportunity, you can’t camp there,” said Lompoc resident Pete Endsley, who has camped with his family at Jalama Beach for 37 years. “I’ve tried in the past four or five times, but was unable to get the dates that I wanted and the amount of time I wanted because it was booked up.”

Endsley said he doesn’t want the same thing to happen to the park’s 100 individual campsites, and that Jalama Beach is special because it’s one of the few places in California where you can park your RV and walk onto the beach.

“It’s a magical place,” he said. “This place is tradition for bunches of families in Santa Barbara County and surrounding counties. Not everybody has the luxury of scheduling their life six months in advance. That’s the beauty of Lompoc.”

Endsley also contends that a reservation system will shut out low-income users who don’t have access to a credit card or a computer.

Roney, however, said that if someone wants to “hand us cash, we’ll help them make a reservation, and that if someone wants to drive out there, they can get a site if a site is available.”

“I think we’re actually giving a leg up to county residents,” he said, noting that those who live outside the county can only reserve the park six months ahead of time, while county residents will be able to make reservations up to nine months in advance.

Gray’s move to keep individual campsites at Jalama available on a first-come first-served basis during the summer attempts to address resident concerns that have been ongoing since 2006, when the county first discussed a reservation system for the park.

At the time, 1,100 campers were randomly surveyed at the park during the summer, and about 70% indicated they were opposed to advance reservations.

“What I’m going to do,” Gray said, “is ask if we can just allow it to stay without reservations from May 31 to Sept. 30. Then the people who are basically local users have a kind of advantage. I think we should at least discuss it.”

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