The Sonoma Coast Belongs to ALL Californians

I love our state parks. That can not be over emphasized. In Sonoma County, the state parks system is looking to set up iron rangers along the coast.

The pay-to-park fight has waged for several years between the California Department of Parks and Recreation (which wants the parking fees) and Sonoma County (whose supervisors unanimously rejected the plan in 2013). The iron rangers would be installed at destinations like Goat Rock, Salmon Creek, Shell Beach and other spots along a 35-mile stretch of Sonoma County coast.

The state appealed the county’s decision to the commission, which will meet on April 13–15 at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Santa Rosa. The meeting was moved from a smaller facility in anticipation of big crowds. (North Bay Bohemian)

Quite frankly, it won’t work. People will park along the residential streets, it will markedly decrease access to our parks, and the local economy will be negatively impacted. The Coastal Commission’s staff said as much in an epic report (very large PDF available here). You can get more

Here’s the quick and dirty summary of their logic:

Staff believes that the best path forward for fee parking programs at the State beaches on the Sonoma Coast is to provide the necessary information and analysis to address the potential impacts associated with a fee parking program which will inform how to avoid or mitigate any identified adverse impacts. In addition, DPR should propose specific measures or programs to provide lower cost access to these beach parks for low income persons. Furthermore, DPR should explore a collaborative partnership with Sonoma County and non-profit entities for joint operation of some of the beach parks as Bodega Head or Willow Creek to share the costs for operation and maintenance which could result in reduced or no fees. Parking fees to access State beaches is an issue of statewide importance, and it is better understood within a statewide context, wherein fees may make sense at certain locations and units, but maybe not others, and local interests and partners are better factored into the equation, including in terms of potential shared management and parks development. A statewide perspective also helps to ensure thatsuch a statewide program is equitable, includes transit alternatives in locations where fees are newly imposed, and allows DPR to further explore partnerships with interested local governments and nonprofits who wish to relieve DPR of its burden of maintaining facilities. This process would be consistent with the letter agreements exchanged in 2013 by the then executive directors of the Commission and State Parks, and with the direction given in Parks Forward, the internal reorganizing effort underway within DPR. For these reasons, staff recommends that the Commission deny the revised proposal submitted by DPR.

For years now, one of the targeted parks within the Sonoma Coast State Park, Willow Creek, has been run by an amazing nonprofit, Landpaths. While they didn’t have the resources to allow completely free access, they were able to manage the land and the trails in a responsible manner. You did have to go to the park to get a permit, but they were free and allowed free access to the park. It wasn’t an ideal system, but it worked.

The Iron Rangers will not work. While the State Parks system has been crying out for money from these parks, and closing many of the lots during the budget crisis, the community was hit hard. The Russian River area parks currently make about $1.3m in revenue, but cost about $4.5m to operate. Yes, it is a money losing operation. But the value of those parks to the communities, including Jenner, Bodega Bay, and the Russian River towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio is immense. Our park systems should not be revenue neutral. Teddy Roosevelt recognized the importance of parks to our nation, and California state parks should follow in these footsteps.

The public is now fighting this mistake, as we fought a series of past mistakes made in the name of development. It is all outlined in this important video. Watch it above, and join the fight against this plan at the website from some folks who are working to block it:

Sonoma Coast State Park