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Stewards' letter to the Coastal Commission
March 26, 2016
The proposal by California State Parks to charge fees on the Sonoma Coast has again changed. Refer to this updated proposal for the most current information.
Stewards has never advocated for fees on the Sonoma Coast. We do advocate for adequate funding for State Parks that only our legislature can allocate from either the general fund or another viable stable source. It is the responsibility of our elected officials to ensure that our State Parks are adequately funded and preserved for future generations. Please write your legislators and encourage them to increase funding for State Parks in order to avoid fees.
The Coastal Commission staff report will be released on April 1st and will be available on their website. The meeting will take place in Santa Rosa on April 13 at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Auditorium at 1351 Maple Avenue.
February 27, 2016
Sonoma Coast Fees ~ Update
Stewards strives to keep our members and supporters informed about issues that affect our State Parks. We hope the information provided in this report will help you be better informed about the issue of proposed Sonoma Coast parking fees. We have provided comments that we have collected from our members and the community - both pro and con so you can formulate your own opinion and most importantly TAKE ACTION and let the Coastal Commission and your Legislators know how you feel.
Current State Park Proposal for Sonoma Coast Fees
The following provides a summary of proposed fee collection in select, existing developed State Park facilities within the Coastal Zone of Sonoma County. The proposal is an effort to balance the input from the local community, the requirements of the Coastal Act and the inherent challenges of managing and protecting natural and cultural resources of the State Park System. The proposal is a product of State Parks and was developed over the course of seven meetings with the input of the Sonoma Coast Fee Issue Working Group, whose members consist of; California State Parks, County of Sonoma (Board of Supervisors, Permit Resource Management Department and Sonoma County Regional Parks), Sonoma County Surfrider Foundation, Sonoma County Conservation Action, Coastwalk, Bodega Bay Fire Department and Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods.
- $8/day for new fee areas or up to $3/hour where possible. Free “surf checks” of 30 minutes.
- Sonoma Coast State Annual Park Pass (Fort Ross, Salt Point, Sonoma Coast).
- Disseminate Low Income Pass information to Sonoma County residents.
- Work with Sonoma County Regional Parks to find alternatives for low income, undocumented residents for fee areas.
- Minimize future service reductions in areas where no fees are collected.
- Retained revenue, pursuant to Public Resources Code §5010.7(d) from new fee collection used for services along the Sonoma Coast.
- Implement Sonoma Coast Advisory Group to build and maintain community involvement.
Fee Collection Key Criteria
- Natural & Cultural Resource Protection
- Public Safety
- Traffic and Parking Impacts
- Services and Activities
- Entrance Station v. Fee Collection Devices
- Spatial Arrangement
Entrance Stations; Bodega Head, Willow Creek, Goat Rock
- Entrance station (two ingress lanes). Staffed peak times, fee collection device when not staffed.
- Miscellaneous improvements; road repair, ADA upgrades, gates, barrier and landscaping improvements.
Fee Collection Devices; Shell Beach, Stump Beach, Freezeout Creek
- Fee collection device in parking area and any needed site improvements including ADA upgrades
Coastal Commission Staff Meeting - February 24th
California Coastal Commission staff members Jack Ainsworth, Dan Carl and Nancy Cave met with members of the community in Santa Rosa on Wednesday February 24th. The public was pleased to share their input about parking fees on the Sonoma Coast. They expressed disappointment that the Open House held by State Parks on February 17th in Sebastopol did not provide the opportunity for public input that was expected.
The public is encouraged to send their concerns in writing as soon as possible to: SonomaStateParksAppeal@Coastal.CA.gov
or by mail to: Nancy Cave, 45 Fremont Street #2000, SF, CA 94105
so they can be included in the Comission staff report.
Many issues were brought before the Coastal Commission staff and a number of them will be shared in this report. Commission staff expressed concern about some of the issues and their need to take them back to their legal department for consultation. Two of those issues are CEQA and whether or not adding Willow Creek into the proposal should be handled separately. They also said there is a possibility they wouldn't have all the information they need for their staff report in time for this item to be added to the April Coastal Commission agenda. The April meeting has been scheduled in Santa Rosa specifically so it can be heard in Sonoma County. If it is not heard in April, the community will need to travel to a meeting outside Sonoma County, which would be unfortunate. Staff are waiting for financial projections from State Parks and the final CEQA determination. We should know soon if Sonoma Coast fees will be on the agenda for the April Coastal Commission meeting. The staff report will be available on their website before the meeting. Stewards will keep you updated.
Stewards' Position on Sonoma Coast Fees
Comments submitted in writing on behalf of Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods to the California Coastal Commission.
Stewards is an 800-member organization that continues to have a neutral position on parking fees on the Sonoma Coast, due to the varying viewpoints expressed to us about this issue by our members.
Stewards does however strongly support a public process for expressing opinions, issues of concern and to satisfy CEQA. For this reason, we appreciate the opportunity provided by the Coastal Commission staff to hear the public's views. We also applaud the efforts by local State Park Superintendent Mike Lair and Environmental Scientist Brendan O’Neil for holding a series of stakeholder meetings to make recommendations that addressed many community issues. Their efforts resulted in a reduction of proposed fee locations and did remove locations that have very few services and present parking and safety issues.
Advocating for a sustainable funding source to adequately support our struggling State Park system continues to be a primary goal for Stewards. Such a funding source would alleviate the need for new fees. Since park closures and service reductions became a reality, Stewards stepped up to operate Austin Creek SRA and we have also been paying to keep the Visitor Center and public restrooms open in Jenner. Our local park management staff are gradually reopening service reduction areas but this doesn’t mean there still isn’t a strain on the limited staff resources that are available for maintaining these coastal facilities. We believe more effort needs to go into appealing to our State legislators to adequately fund our park system.
We appreciate legislators, like Senator McGuire who are proponents of using tax revenue from the eventual sale of legal marijuana to fund State Parks. It makes sense considering the damage done by illegal pot grows on public lands and what it has done to our natural resources in places like Austin Creek SRA and Salt Point SP. We encourage the Coastal Commission to delay their decision for new Sonoma Coast fees until this proposal has a chance to become the new funding source for our State Parks.
If the Coastal Commission should approve new Sonoma Coast fees:
- Stewards strongly encourages a reasonably priced local pass for all Sonoma County State Parks, not just coastal parks.
- Stewards also supports monthly free days on the weekend so all park visitors can enjoy coastal access regardless of their socio-economic situation.
- We also feel that a phasing in process would be appropriate and a monitoring plan to determine whether or not expected revenue projections are being realized.
- In addition, we recommend that an Oversight Committee comprised of stakeholder organizations continue to be involved in regular meetings with State Parks to maintain good communication about coastal issues.
Comments by Stewards Members - Pro and Con
- Among local participants, there seems to be unanimous agreement that the best situation would be well-funded State Parks with free access for all. Unfortunately, there isn't statewide legislative support for increased funding for State Parks. There also isn't statewide support for proposals like Proposition 21, which failed a few years ago.
- Members have commented that charging fees on the Sonoma Coast is a violation of the California Coastal Act, which has it's roots in Sonoma County.
- State Parks' proposal looks generous compared to what Sonoma County Regional Parks charges. That’s why Regional Parks is trying to reduce fees to be more in line with what the State proposes.
- Sonoma Coast State Park costs about $4.0 million per year to run, but brings in only $0.8 million. Services are needed – note the key role of lifeguards on the coast and State Park rangers on Hwy 1.
- Preparation of a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Initial Study is fundamental to identifying impacts, developing mitigation, and assisting the lead agency to determine if changes as a result of project implementation would be significant. At the 2/17/16 State Park meeting in Sebastopol, DPR representatives stated that the Initial Study is not done; yet it was also stated that a [Mitigated] Negative Declaration [M]ND will be prepared. A CEQA professional for over 20 years expressed concerns as to how this determination has been made without full consideration of potential impacts, avoidance and mitigation measures, and findings of significance in a completed Initial Study.
- The issue of whether or not scoping meetings are needed to inform CEQA was brought up. Since the Coastal Commission took this issue on appeal because they felt it was of "statewide significance" surely scoping to receive public input from those who have far more knowledge of the issues of local concern and potential impacts of the proposed project than someone in Sacramento would be beneficial. State Park staff feel that because the proposal is being considered a MND, scoping meetings are not needed.
- Members of Stewards are concerned about the potential impacts of social trails through sensitive habitat from the public who choose not to pay and instead park along the sides of the road to access their parks. There are many ground nesting birds on the coastal prairie.
- Concerns have been expressed about the dangers for families parking along Highway One to avoid paying fees.
- The visual impact of cars parked along Highway One would certainly interfere with the views of the coastal prairie, wildflowers and ocean. The open unrestricted views are the reason the Sonoma Coast is so special compared to places like Monterey and Mendocino where development and other human objects inject themselves between the road and countryside.
- Visitors to Sonoma coastal State Parks do generate significant traffic and tourist business, but there are no effective ways to capture a reasonable portion of those revenues for State Parks, County Parks, local fire jurisdictions, local law enforcement, etc.
- Limiting access for those who cannot afford to pay fees is of concern.
- State Parks funding has been decreasing for many years and they are desparately understaffed, which is what led to the service reductions on Sonoma Coast. It's time to reopen all closed areas and modest fees could accomplish that.
- Having closed areas on the Sonoma Coast is impacting access. This is a bigger problem then charging fee.
- Southern CA is paying $15 - $20 to park at their beaches. $8 is reasonable comparatively.
- To get to our coastal State Parks requires an investment of $50 in auto expense and 3 hours of time. A parking fee is nominal on top of those costs.
- Sonoma Coast is such a resource and of course there are costs, and those of us who use it can offset some of those costs by paying for parking. I hope in the future they try a ballot measure again and a separate trust fund for state parks (like Oregon).
- Concerns have been expressed about the lack of input requested by State Parks from Native People, low-income residents and seniors.
- There have been no financial projections showing expected revenue and expenses from new fees to date. A solid business plan is needed.
- Automatic pay stations will not last on the Sonoma Coast due to harsh weather conditions. In order to serve all people APMs need to take cash and credit cards.
Comments by Community Members
- The Resource Agencies are just not a priority in Gov.Brown's budget proposal. It is up to the Legislature to reverse that and add more revenue.
- Members of the Rock Climbing Community were well represented at the February 24th meeting. They expressed concerns about the proposed entrance kiosk at Goat Rock. This will limit access for climbers who now park there for free to access Sunset Rocks. Groups like the B-Rad Foundation, Vertex and the Rock Ice and Mountain Club are serving high risk youth and they are concerned about impacts to their programs.
- The Sonoma Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has comments on their website and they have been very active in the Stakeholder meetings. One of their comments concerns the statewide implications and precedent that would be set for charging fees at other locations throughout the state of CA with limited facilities.
What you can do
- Stewards recommends that you send your comments to the California Coastal Commission today so they can be included in the staff report. You are welcome to use any of the comments above that reasonate with your feelings. Again, they can be sent to: SonomaStateParksAppeal@Coastal.CA.gov
or by mail to: Nancy Cave, 45 Fremont Street #2000, SF, CA 94105
- In addition, we strongly encourage you to send letters to our state legislators letting them know your opinions about fees and to advocate for their support in adequately funding our State Parks and addressing the need for a sustainable funding source that will end the struggle to fund your State Parks forever.
- Become a Volunteer in Parks - Volunteers do not pay fees when they are fulfiling their volunteer duties and they can also earn District-wide day-use passes for volunteering 24 hours a year or a Statewide pass for volunteering 200 hours a year.
Sonoma Coast guardians celebrate 30 years of conservation - PD article 3/11/15
Parks Forward Commission Report & Transition Team
Press Democrat Editorial - 2/15/15
Press Democrat article about Parks Forward - 2/10/15
Steward Ship - It's a Wrap - Stewards' new Mobile Marine Education Center is now wrapped in a wonderful graphic designed by Christopher Lods.
Austin Creek campsites now a click away - Press Democrat March 7, 2014
Nonprofit plans enhancements to State Parks Facilities - Press Democrat October 6, 2013
Preserving pottery history at Austin Creek - Press Democrat August 27, 2013
Group gets OK to keep Austin Creek open - Press Democrat September 16, 2012
Austin Creek's Bullfrog Pond Campground Opens on August 17, 2012
After months of planning and focused work, we are almost ready to open Austin Creek's Bull Frog Pond Campground.
Stewards Proposes Operating Agreement for Austin Creek and Sonoma Coast
Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods (Stewards) has submitted a proposal to California State Parks to keep Austin Creek State Recreation Area (currently on the closure list) and Sonoma Coast State Park open.