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Parking Fees Nixed at Free Sonoma County Beaches

Good news for Napa County residents who like the beach: Sonoma County's zoning board has rejected a state bid to charge for parking at 10 beaches where access currently is free. The state has 10 days to appeal.

By Bay City News Service

The Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments Thursday afternoon unanimously rejected a proposal by the California Department of Parks and Recreation to charge fees at 14 parking lots at 10 free beaches along the Sonoma Coast.

State parks sought a county coastal development permit to install self-pay, metal collection boxes, known as "iron rangers", and signs in the parking lots of the beaches in the Sonoma Coast and Salt Point state parks.

State park officials did not mention in its application how much the one-day parking fee would be, but it previously said it wanted to charge $8.

In its permit application, the State Parks Department said the parking fees are needed because of budget shortfalls and a mandate from the state legislature to increase its revenue. Stephanie Coleman, a State Parks environmental coordinator, told the five zoning board directors the money is needed for maintenance and public safety.

Several state beaches and Sonoma County parks along the coast already charge parking fees. Many of the two-dozen people who spoke against the parking fees at the hearing this afternoon said a public safety hazard already exists on the Sonoma Coast because people are parking alongside Highway 1 and on narrow residential streets to avoid paying existing parking fees.

Charging for parking at more beaches will make matters worse, they said. "I hate to think that Highway 1 will become a parking lot. It's a disaster waiting to happen," said Doug Pike of Healdsburg. Other speakers said more parking fees would prevent lower income residents from visiting the Sonoma Coast. Several speakers said the free beaches provide a spiritual respite from daily stress.

Zoning board staff members recommended that the parking fee application be denied and "maximum access" to the beaches be preserved. The staff said that under the state Coastal Act, the only limitations to "maximum access" are public safety, protection of public rights, protection of private property rights and protection of natural resource areas.

"This law does not list fiscal or budgetary constraints as a basis to limit that "maximum access," the staff report stated. Zoning board chairman Jason Liles said, "These 'iron rangers' will become iron gates and a threat to public safety." Board member Don Bennett said he is concerned about public safety and other unintended issues that would arise if the parking fee application is approved.

Board member Pamela Davis said, "Free parking protects the environment, public safety, private property and preserves public access," she said. "It (the parking fees) feels like another revenue grab by the state," Davis said.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation has 10 days to appeal the zoning board's decision to the Sonoma County Planning Commission.

Coleman said she will inform State Parks management about the opinions given at the hearing, and the decision regarding an appeal rests with the Department's director.

Copyright © 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

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Mary Richardson January 20, 2013 at 05:08 PM
:)
Lisa Van de Water January 20, 2013 at 06:01 PM
Put in a "Donation Box" and a sign asking people to help keep Sonoma beaches free. Lots of people - myself and friends included - visit these parks and would put in a donation, but people who couldn't afford to would not be prohibited from using the park.
MICHAEL P WILSON "Independent Kid" January 20, 2013 at 09:09 PM
We should not have to pay, to park on "our" public land. The parking lots and other beach improvements Are paid for with tax money, we all pay for this at some point. If the money was collected. What specifically would it have been used for?
MICHAEL P WILSON "Independent Kid" January 20, 2013 at 09:11 PM
I would also like to point out, this is the same State agency. That was found to have Millions in hidden accounts.
Elaine January 21, 2013 at 06:00 PM
I can tell you someone will for sure find a way to take the box, no matter how well it is secured.. And it is a shame there is even a consideration to charge people.. Our beaches should be ours.. not the states.. besides our state is giving away our resources to people who take and take and do not work..and I am NOT talking about immigration issues!!!!!!! We attract people looking for a place to work the system to take advantage of programs in place to help people really in need.

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