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Sonoma County planners to weigh parking fee proposal for state beaches

Goat Rock State Beach in Jenner.

(Kent Porter / Press Democrat)
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 5:02 p.m.

The state's plan to expand the number of beaches along the Sonoma Coast where visitors would be charged for parking faces its first crucial test in Santa Rosa today.

The Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments is scheduled to vote on whether to give California State Parks the authority to install 15 new self-pay machines at beaches on the Sonoma Coast.

The state's application for a county coastal development permit does not spell out any fees, but parks officials previously said they plan to charge visitors $8 for parking.

The plan faces stiff opposition, including from Jason Liles, chairman of both the zoning board and the county's Planning Commission.

"I don't like anybody charging for beaches," Liles said this week.

His main concern with the plan is that people will park outside the designated areas and put themselves at risk getting to the beach. He said emergency personnel "already spend a fair amount of time helping people" who get into trouble at the coast.

County staff are recommending that the permit be denied. The decision can be appealed to county supervisors and ultimately the California Coastal Commission.

State officials say the new day-use fees are necessary to keep the beaches open and to reopen others as the park system grapples with budget cuts and a deferred maintenance backlog of more than $1 billion.

Within Sonoma Coast State Park, eight day-use areas and two environmental campgrounds are closed, along with two-thirds of Bodega Dunes Campground. Only a few day-use areas with restroom facilities remain open, in addition to 49 camping spaces at Wrights Beach and Bodega Dunes.

The areas where the new fees would apply include Stump Beach, Russian Gulch, Goat Rock, Shell Beach, Portuguese Beach, Schoolhouse Beach, North and South Salmon Creek, Campbell Cove and Bodega Head.

Critics say the fees would violate people's rights to enjoy the coast under California's Constitution and the state's 1976 Coastal Act, which encourages "maximum access" to beaches.

The county's Local Coastal Plan states that the county must take "all necessary steps to protect and defend" those rights "to and along the shoreline."

Critics also point out that there is limited public transportation to Sonoma's beaches. The proposed fees represent "a clear barrier to lower-income individuals" being able to enjoy the coast, Una Glass, executive director of Coastwalk California, wrote in opposition to the plan.

The county has received more than 50 emails and letters regarding the state's plan, the "overwhelming majority" of them expressing opposition to the fees, said David Hardy, supervising planner of the county Permit and Resource Management Department.

Thursday's public hearing is at 1 p.m. at the county Permit and Resource Management Department, 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa.

You can reach Staff WriterDerek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com.On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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