Friday, February 12, 2016

How Committed to Coastal Access Are We?


This is what I intend to say at the Open House this Wednesday evening (2/17, 6:30-8:30) at the Sebastopol Cultural Center (490 Morris), when California State Parks listens to the Sonoma public concerning a parking fee proposal now headed to the California Coastal Commission on April 12th in Santa Rosa.

As one who has worked hard to support State Parks (including serving on the Board of directors of Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods and co-chairing the County effort many years ago to raise park operating funds through an increase in vehicle registration fees), and who has served several times as President of a statewide organization dedicated to coastal access, you won’t be surprised if I say the whole idea of charging users to access the Sonoma coast is counterproductive and extremely divisive. 

I wish that we could stop it, but I think the direction of the Legislature and Coastal Commission is becoming increasingly clear.  California is becoming a user-funded state, and is losing its sense of the commons.  Governor Brown is directing California toward a future which rewards the rich, and punishes the poor.

But I do have hope that we in Sonoma County will come up with new and very creative ways to mitigate the damage this will do.  Why?  Because Sonoma County residents are dedicated to retaining our commons, and specifically of making sure everyone can access our coast.  We live, breathe, and are dedicated to the full implementation of, the California Coastal Act.

First, let’s applaud that fact that the proposal adds costs not now funded.  Opening up new parks, building entrance stations and kiosks, improving parking lots, maintaining facilities, and adding environmental support and protection staff, all are not now in the local state parks budget.  All of us have been advocating for keeping our state coastal parks open, and it's good to understand that new parking fees will be put to this use.

Secondly, I also applaud the proposed expansion of the Park passes.  I believe that the full use of existing passes, as well as the energetic roll-out of a proposed Sonoma Coast Pass, will work toward allowing residents of Sonoma County to access the coast.

But then there’s the hard part.  How do those not eligible for passes aimed at U.S. Citizens access the beach?  Free days might help.  And given that every parking space not subject to pay parking will be fought over, how about reserving half of those spaces for low cost, multi-passenger cars?  How about county and city-auto stickers for residents of our lowest income census tracts, and priority in the lots without pay parking?  How about every student attending state subsidized preschool programs carries home a free pass?  Every K-12 student attending a school with federally-subsidized lunch programs?  Every resident of Section 8 housing, and those on the waiting list?  Every recipient of Earned Income Tax Credits? Every student who receives an income-restricted scholarship grant?  The list could and does go on.

If our intention in expanding pay parking is to mirror our charging strategies for traditional park attendance, by issuing passes to those we believe should get a break, it’s time for us to step up and do the same for our Sonoma Coast.  Let’s distribute passes with the same kind of creativity we bring to the rest of our lives.  How about some real partnership State Parks?  Let’s show how different we in Sonoma County really are.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

California Coastal Commission Executive Director Fired


A few minutes ago, the California Coastal Commission emerged out of a closed session vote to fire its Executive Director, Charles Lester on a 7-5 vote.  Voting in the affirmative were the four Commissioners appointed by Governor Brown, two Commissioners of the Assembly Speaker, Toni Atkins, and one Commissioner appointed by Senate President Pro Tem, Kevin de Leon.

In a closing comment, Dr. Lester said it was an honor to serve the Commission, said he hoped it could continue, and thanked the large crowd of his supporters present.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Coastal Pay Parking Plan Meeting, Feb 17th


For the past year, local staff of California State Parks have been meeting with representatives of Coastwalk California, Sonoma Coast Surfrider, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, Sonoma County Conservation Action, and Sonoma County.  Following the decision by the California Coastal Commission last year to take jurisdiction over a proposal to install automated pay parking machines at locations along the Sonoma Coast, the Commission ordered State Parks to meet with stakeholders and the public to improve the permit application.  On Wednesday, Feb 17th, State Parks is inviting the public to participate in a community meeting from 6:30-8:00pm in the Sebastopol Community Center at 490 Morris Street in Sebastopol, where their latest proposed plan will be presented for comments.

First, let me say that I have appreciated and admired the work of local state parks staff in the development of their latest proposed plan.  It has not been easy for them to both respond to their legislative mandate to increase revenue from park users, and to solicit and incorporate the advice of advocates of coastal access who believe that parking fees will inhibit that access.  Nevertheless, the latest proposed plan being revealed demonstrates that they have listened.

I continue to advocate that the maintenance and operation of California's parks should be financed by the broader California public and the state general fund, and that the barrier presented by imposing parking fees on Sonoma's coast violates the coastal public access requirements of California's Constitution.  While the latest proposed plan includes new efforts to remedy the economic hardship imposed on Sonoma's poorest residents, cuts in half the number of installations, uses staffed kiosks in three key parking areas, and promises to use the revenue to improve the services delivered by State parks on the coast, it does not go far enough to convince me that significant numbers of Californians will not barred from their coast.

Hope to see and talk with you all at the meeting.