Beach Access
April 12 2016

Sonoma Stands Up to State Parks, Demands Coastal Commission Denies Fees

by Jennifer Savage

If an award for "tirelessness" existed, Surfrider's Sonoma Chapter would be long overdue. The birthplace of the Coastal Act, Sonoma's coast has long been coveted by developers – only the passion and foresight of its residents has kept it a place of remote and rugged beauty. But as the saying goes, the coast is always needing saving. And so the Surfrider Foundation joins Senator Mike McGuire, Assemblymember Jim Wood and Sonoma County supervisors in speaking out against California State Parks' proposal to impose new parking fees for four Sonoma Coast beaches that have historically been free.

FREE - Our Coast from Sashwa Burrous on Vimeo.

Once again, hundreds of Californians dedicated to protecting their right to the coast are expected to pack a Coastal Commission meeting. In February, the goal was to prevent the firing of Executive Director Charles Lester – an effort that failed, despited tens of thousands of Californians speaking up. In March, the fallout from the firing continued. Now, on Wednesday, April 13, we gather with our allies once again, this time to support the Commission staff’s recommendation to deny the proposed $8 parking fee at Bodega Head, Shell Beach, Goat Rock and Stump Beach. 

We are not alone. 

“As someone from a disadvantaged background, who had the privilege of accessing our incredible Sonoma County coastline without having to consider whether our family could afford the price of admission, I fully understand the threat to public access that this proposal would mean for our children and future generations of Californians,” commented Supervisor Efren Carrillo. “It is particularly ironic that the applicant has chosen Sonoma County, the birthplace of the Coastal Act, as the place to bring forward this ill-considered and unconstitutional proposal.”

For years, Surfrider's Sonoma chapter, along with Sonoma County residents, have opposed the plan, decrying it as unfair and saying it will effectively limit coastal access to only those who can afford it. Unlike other areas in the state, the remote nature of Sonoma Coast beaches means visitors generally must access the coast by car, parking in State Parks’ lots to get to the beach and the ocean. "Commissioners need to deny this proposal at this time because it sets a negative precedent to charge fees at undeveloped lots along the Sonoma and greater California coastline, threatening to disproportionally affect low-income users who rely on these lots for coastal access," Cea Higgins, Surfrider Foundation's Sonoma Chapter policy coordinator said.

Despite the County of Sonoma voting against the fees and almost wholly negative feedback from stakeholders and the general public, State Parks continues to push for them.

Senator McGuire submitted a letter opposing the fees to the Coastal Commission on Monday, noting that like many coastal regions north of the Golden Gate, the Sonoma Coast is isolated due to the lack of public transit. Several Coastal Commissioners have said they want visitors who enjoy the coast to be more diverse, and Senator McGuire believes enacting fees on the Sonoma Coast would have the opposite effect of their stated goal. “Californians deserve a park system that is open to all,” Senator McGuire said. “Rather than continuing this tired battle which is inconsistent with the Coastal Act, let’s work together on a plan that will bring financial stability to our beloved parks for generations to come.”

Assemblymember Wood noted, “The California Coastal Act seeks to allow for maximum public access to beaches and waterways and gives local jurisdictions the authority to assure balanced use and conservation of coastal resources… It is my duty as a state official to uphold and defend the state constitution and to preserve the intent of the California Coastal Act.”

Currently the only beach access areas where fees are charged are fully staffed and include amenities such as camping, hot showers, trash service and ADA paved lots. In contrast, the proposed locations are undeveloped.  

The Surfrider Foundation joins a coalition of environmental and social justice groups that are fighting to keep beach access open for all, especially to at-risk and underserved communities and impacted adjacent neighborhoods. Citizens should call out Governor Jerry Brown for pitting State Parks against local environmental, educational and socio-demographically diverse groups through consistent underfunding of this most important agency key to the quality of life for all Californians.

Image of Arched Rock as seen from Goat Rock by Frank Schulenburg via Wikimedia