Wealthy California Residents Receive Warning for Blocking Access to Public Hot Springs

By: Lauren | Published: Apr 21, 2024

Montecito, California, is known for being one of the most beautiful and wealthiest neighborhoods in the country. With a beautiful view of the Pacific, miles of walking trails, and even natural hot springs, it is a coveted corner of Southern California.

Of course, the homes are private property, however, the walking trails and natural springs are supposed to be open to the public. Though, it seems its residents don’t want to share their paradise, as many have placed large boulders along the pathways to deter visitors. Now, local lawmakers are warning that residents of Montecito will receive a hefty fine if caught trying to do so.

The Hot Springs of Montecito

For years, the stunning bright blue natural pools in the hills of Montecito, California, have been a wonderful attraction for locals and tourists alike. After a short 1.3-mile hike from the San Padres Forest trailhead, everyone and anyone can enjoy a beautiful soak in the warm water, surrounded by the quiet of nature.

A photograph of one of the hot springs in Montecito, California

Source: @MontecitoHotSprings/Facebook

However, in recent years, the hot springs have become increasingly popular, thanks to thousands of social media posts showing the world where they are, how to get there, and just how special they are.


There Are Only 8 Parking Spots for the Montecito Hot Springs

Now, here’s where the trouble starts. With more visitors every day, there is no longer space in the small parking lot at the trailhead, which only provides 8 spaces.

An empty parking lot surrounded by nature

Source: Freepik

Consequently, guests have taken to parking along the side of the road, creating traffic jams in this once-serene forest.

Santa Barbara County Announced a Plan to Add 62 Parking Spaces

In order to combat this issue, lawmakers in Santa Barbara County, home of Montecito, announced in 2022 that they planned to add an additional 62 parking spaces at the trailhead.

A scale, paperwork, and a judge’s gavel on a table at a law firm

Source: Freepik

Of course, this decision did not go over well with the residents who live directly next to the proposed new lot. In fact, four homeowners sued the county in protest. But as the case has yet to be settled, the country has not yet built the dozens of new spaces.

Montecito Residents Have Taken the Situation Into Their Own Hands

While the court decides whether or not Santa Barbara County has the right to build the additional 62 parking spaces, visitors continue to park along the roads leading to the hot springs when the existing lot is full.

Large boulders on a walking trail in the woods

Source: Freepik

In frustration, the residents of the neighborhood have decided to place large rocks, signs, and even trees in the way so that visitors cannot park along the public road.

This Has Been Going On For More Than a Year

It’s important to note that this is not a new situation; in fact, residents have been adding boulders and other hindrances to the road since early 2023.

A sign that reads “Public Water Access” with an icon of a stick figure carrying a canoe

Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, in July of that year, a local court ruled that the Santa Barbara County Public Works department absolutely had the right of way to clear away anything added to the public road to deter visitors from the hot springs.


Residents Have Continued to Replace the Removed Rocks

But since that decision, while the Public Works department has tirelessly worked to remove the illegally placed rocks, local residents have repeatedly returned them. At this point, local lawmakers are quite frustrated and have decided on a new course of action.

A black mailbox at the end of a driveway with the number “2607”

Source: Freepik

As of March 2024, six homes on East Mountain Road have received letters from the county stating that if they didn’t remove the rocks themselves by the end of the month, they could face criminal or civil prosecution and receive fines of up to $850 every day the rocks remain.


Who Received These Letters?

While the addresses of these six letters have not been made public, one can assume that at least some of the residents are members of America’s elite.

Former members of the Royal Family, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, smile for the camera

Source: @PrinceHarryandMeghanMarkle/Facebook

Former members of the Royal Family, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, live there, as does Oprah Winfrey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ariana Grande, and Orlando Bloom and wife, Katy Perry. So there is a chance that one or more of these celebrities are behind the illegal rock barriers.


This Isn’t the First Instance of Illegal Blockades in California

While this story is making headlines, it’s actually not the only case of California residents attempting to stop visitors from accessing public lands.

Close-up photo of a chain link fence that sits along a rocky beach

Source: Freepik

Homeowners in Santa Cruz received a whopping $4.7 million fine earlier this year for installing a chain link fence to block public access to the beach in front of their homes.


Malibu Homeowners Will Have to Spend Millions to Restore Public Access to Escondido Beach

Additionally, the Coastal Commission recently approved a piece of legislation that will force several Malibu residents to spend millions of their own money to build a public access walkway and parking lot at Escondido Beach.

A small public trail leading to a California beach

Source: Freepik

For years, these residents have built blockades to prevent the general public from accessing the public beach, which has been deemed both unethical and illegal.


Wealthy Americans Cannot Stop Citizens From Visiting Public Spaces

The state of California is known for two things: Its extremely wealthy population and the breathtaking natural landscapes.

A multi-million dollar mansion in Montecito, California

Source: @LuxuryHomes/YouTube

However, as the elite population grew, natural beauty became less and less available to the rest of the state’s inhabitants. Finally, local lawmakers are trying to put a stop to this unfortunate practice.


California Wants to Ensure Its Beautiful Landscapes Can Be Enjoyed by All

Although this situation may seem pedantic, the truth is that it is an American right that citizens of all backgrounds have access to the natural wonders the country has to offer.

Aerial view of the rocky coast of Southern California

Source: Freepik

The natural hot springs of Montecito need to be available to all people, not just those who can afford a multi-million dollar home.