By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Other than the gas they used to get there, Murray and Janice Bruce didn’t have to spend a dime Friday morning to enjoy a spectacular view of Goat Rock near
They said it should stay that way.
“Keep it free,” said Murray Bruce, who lives in Berkeley with his wife. “The more people that come to the coast, the more they will appreciate it and want to protect it.”
California State Parks, however, is still seeking the authority to expand the number of beaches along the Sonoma and Mendocino County coasts, including at Goat Rock, where visitors must pay for parking.
State officials say the new day-use fees, which would amount to $8 a vehicle, 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.
Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose district includes the coast, characterized the state’s intentions as an insult to the nonprofit groups and individuals in the public and private sectors who stepped up in the past year to save parks from closure.
“For State Parks to repay the people of Sonoma County with what I think is an excessive charge to access our coastline is downright unacceptable,” Carrillo said.
In Sonoma County, the state parks department wants to implement fees at 14 popular beaches where access now is free: Stump Beach, Russian Gulch, Blind Beach, North Goat Rock, Goat Rock Arched Rock, South Goat Rock, Shell Beach, Portuguese Beach, Schoolhouse Beach, North and South Salmon Creek, Campbell Cove, Bodega Head Upper and Bodega Head Lower.
State Parks submitted an application for a county coastal development permit that would allow it to install 15 self-pay machines, or “iron rangers,” at the locations where the fees are to be assessed.
David Hardy, supervising planner of the county Permit and Resource Management Department, said he expects to make a recommendation on the application in a few weeks. It then will be reviewed by the county Board of Zoning Adjustments.
Hardy said the issue boils down to whether charging new fees along the coast represents a change in use that is consistent with the county’s coastal plan.
He said that in his review of the plan, fees are referenced mainly in relation to private beach access points, including at Ocean Cove and Timber Cove.
County supervisors on Aug. 21 unanimously supported a resolution opposing the fees, which also have come under withering criticism from the North Coast’s legislative delegation.
Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said he’s “going to do what I can” to get State Parks to reconsider the fee proposal.
Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed Huffman’s bill that would, among other things, allow Californians to redirect portions of their tax refunds to a parks “protection fund,” in exchange for an annual state park day-use access pass. Motorists also will be given the opportunity to buy special license plates with a portion of the proceeds going to state parks.
Bill to keep parks open
Brown also signed AB 1478, which provides $30 million to keep parks open for the next two years. Of that, $10 million will come from money discovered in a State Parks operating fund, and another $10 million to match private and nonprofit group donations.
Another $10 million will be allocated through Proposition 84 and spent on deferred maintenance projects for state parks.
Roy Stearns, a spokesman for State Parks, said all this amounts to one-time money that “does not restore the budget cuts of the last many years.”
He said State Parks therefore needs to raise more revenue, hence the proposal to charge new fees along the coast.
“We need to think ahead. Our critical underfunding problem has not gone away,” he said.
But at Goat Rock on Friday, Atwater resident Steve Freitas, no relation to Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas, said the new fees essentially would be like taking land away from the people.
“For a certain segment of the population, this is their recreation,” he said.
You can reach Staff WriterDerek Moore at 521-5336 or derek. firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.