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.

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