Sonoma County zoning board rejects beach parking fee proposal
Published: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 9:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 at 8:47 a.m.
A Sonoma County zoning board Thursday soundly rejected the state's application to expand the number of beaches along the Sonoma Coast where visitors would be charged for parking.
The unanimous decision of the Board of Zoning Adjustments was expected, and likely sets up another showdown on the contentious issue before county supervisors.
"Currently, the idea is yes, we will be appealing," said Stephanie Coleman, an environmental coordinator for California State Parks.
Coleman presented the state's case that additional day-use fees are needed to maintain or restore services on the Sonoma Coast before a skeptical audience of about 50 people who attended Thursday's three-hour hearing in Santa Rosa.
The state is seeking permission to install 15 new self-pay machines at beaches on the Sonoma Coast and charge visitors a new $8 fee for parking.
Coleman said the plan fulfills the Legislature's mandate for state parks to find reliable sources of revenue.
But former county supervisor Bill Kortum spoke for many critics when he told the zoning board that the coast is the "commons of California, and you don't charge people to go to their commons."
Ernie Carpenter, another former supervisor, said the county hasn't supported coastal access all these years through tax measures and other initiatives only to have the state turn around and "make us pay to go watch the sunset."
Several speakers also expressed worries about public safety resulting from beach visitors parking where they shouldn't to avoid paying the parking fees, such as along Highway 1.
Margaret Briare, president of the board of the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District, said emergency personnel already are burdened as it is.
"We're the first ones called, and yet we don't get one dime from the state to run our district," she said.
County staff had recommended denial of the state's application for a coastal development permit to install the "iron rangers" -- metal fee boxes -- on the grounds the fees would violate people's right to enjoy the coast under California's Constitution and the state's 1976 Coastal Act, which encourages "maximum access" to beaches.
Coleman and other state officials could not say Thursday how much of the money collected from the proposed fees would be dedicated to Sonoma County beaches. She said the money would go into a state park recreation fund.
"The funds would not, at this point, unless additional steps are taken, be totally reserved for the Russian River District" of state parks, Coleman said.
Nor could state representatives say with certainty how they would enforce compliance with the new fees, other than to say park rangers would issue warnings or tickets to visitors who fail to pay the required amount.
"I'll be frank, it just feels like another revenue grab by the state," said Pam Davis, a zoning board member who represents the 5th Supervisorial District, which includes the coast.
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.
Board member Greg Carr voted to deny the state's application while also noting that beaches currently closed for budget reasons are a "restriction to public access."
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 state has 10 days to appeal Thursday's decision.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.
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