Sonoma Coast Parking Fees
|Summary||California’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) continued to push its plan to implement new fees at gravel parking lots in very rural stretches of the Sonoma coast. This was the second hearing before the Coastal Commission on DPR’s proposal, and the crowd of approximately 500 people, including dozens of low-income family members and high school students, at the April 13 Santa Rosa hearing were unanimously opposed to the new fees.
At the hearing last April, the Commission requested DPR provide specific types of data and documentation to support the new fee proposal. At this month’s hearing, DPR had still not provided adequate data, planning, outreach or communication. The Coastal Commission staff strongly recommended denial of the proposal both due to the incomplete application and the likely impact on lower income families and community members.
The Sonoma coast is remote and lacking public transportation, and the only way to get to the beach is by car. While both Sonoma County and DPR have parks and beach access parking lots where fees are required, Bodega Head, Shell Beach, Goat Rock and Stump Beach have historically been free. Each provides unique experiences including tide-pooling, river-wading, whale watching and a way to check ocean conditions from shore.
The Commission’s staff report highlighted the fee issue as a social justice issue. The proposed charge of $8 would deter many people from visiting state beaches and parks and would diminish the ability of others to visit as often. The reality is, for many residents of Sonoma County, $8 is a substantial charge especially when the cumulative amount is considered. A weekly trip to the beach would end up costing a family over $400 per year. Particularly touching testimony came from Kashia Pomo tribal members who pointed out that these are sacred spots and DPR would essentially force them to “pay to pray.”
Prior to the vote, acting Executive Director Jack Ainsworth strongly advised against the motion to continue, emphasizing the amount of time already given to the proposal, the ever-increasing staff workload and the disruption of other priorities including efforts to assist counties with Local Coastal Plans, a long-standing issue of urgency.
Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart had testified that her agency would be glad to take over management of Bodega Head – the most visited of the state beaches pegged for new fees – in order to keep the park open without new fees. Ultimately Commissioners voted to direct members of the Coastal Commission, Commission staff, DPR, Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and Sonoma County Parks convene to work out a path forward.
Despite the Commission punted its decision until after these forthcoming meetings, and ignored the staff recommendation and the public’s demands, the fact that DPR’s proposal wasn’t approved outright means coastal access hasn’t been lost – yet. As the saying goes, “In the environment, every victory is temporary, every defeat permanent.” The battle continues….
|Outcome Description||After two hours of presentations and more than four hours of public comment, Commissioners weighed in for another hour-plus. Instead of heeding the public and the advice of their own staff, most Commissioners present voiced similar opinions: that Commission staff should work with DPR and Sonoma County and bring the project back at a later date. Only Commissioner Carole Groom said she was ready to vote.
Ultimately the commission disappointed the public by voted 11-1 on a motion by Commissioner Bochco to continue the issue, asking all parties – DPR, Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and Regional Parks, Coastal Commission Chair and Vice-Chair, and Coastal Commission staff – to renew negotiations in hopes of finding a compromise and to report back to the Commission in June. (Commissioner Pestor, Mary Shallenberger’s alternate, was the only “NO” vote, due to his desire for a statewide solution to the issue.)
|Why You Should Care||This is a precedent-setting issue that affects the fate of all gravel parking lots that provide free public access along our coast. The Sonoma Coast is an example of incredible coastal resources that are only available by car. By requiring fees to park, DPR is, by default, also placing fees on cultural resources, natural resources and public resources that should not be further restricted to, essentially, “You can play if you can pay.”|
|Decision Type||Coastal Development Permit|
|Opposition to Project||Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, Students from Salmon Creek School, Alden John Olmsted, Sonoma County Conservation Action, John and Joy Trimboli, Margaret Rose Rives, Sonoma Coast Surfrider, Mary Potje and David Humes, Christina Raymond, Norma Jellison, The Ocean Foundation, Andrea Kaufman, Victor Sund, Barbara DeIonno, Lena Chyle, Bonnie Chase, Margaret Briare, Darrell Sukovitzen, Carol Sklenicka and Richard Ryan, Ruby and Joe Cooper, Lorrie Uribe, Claudia and Tom Giacinto, Cathy and Dennis Schezer, Kate Fenton, Pamela Stone Singer, Preserve Rural Sonoma County, Darren Wiemeyer, Jerry Dodrill, Michael Lockert, Ronald Goldberg, Russell Wells, Gwynn O’Gara, Jim Finn, Karen Antonioli-Fahey, Clare Najarian, Gwen Dhesi, Harold Appleton, Iso Rabins, Joan Voight, Lorraine Cook, Rose Saint John and Patrick Craig, Rhody Mashek, Jay deLong, Zeke Cissell, Laurel Laws, Sandy Horowitz and many many more (see staff report).|
|Coastal Act Policies||Chapter 3 Policies|
Voting Detail for Sonoma Coast Parking Fees
|Mary K. Shallenberger|
View Meeting Page for the meeting where this issue was discussed/voted on.