Will $8 parking fees deter visitors from Sonoma County beaches?

May 23, 2013

With summer quickly approaching, Sonoma County residents and visitors have begun flocking back to the beaches that dot the length of its scenic coastline. But many local beachgoers are reacting strongly against a proposal to make them pay to play.

The state is seeking permission to install self-pay machines and to begin charging visitors an $8 fee to park at any of 10 Sonoma County beaches. With last year’s State Parks funding scandal still lingering, the department faces an uphill battle getting the Northern California public to accept the plan.

“It just feels like they’re trying to nickel-and-dime us,” said Diane Archibald, a retired Petaluma resident who was visiting Schoolhouse Beach, one of the beaches on the list. “There’s definitely money [for the beaches] somewhere, and it’s being spent incorrectly.”

Earlier this year, the Sonoma County zoning board rejected the State Parks Department’s application for a coastal development permit to install metal fee boxes, on the grounds that they would violate people’s rights to enjoy the coast, which they argued is codified in the state constitution and the 1976 Coastal Act. State Parks appealed the decision to the Sonoma county board of supervisors, which is expected to hear the case next month.

The Sonoma beaches at issue include: Stump Beach, Russian Gulch, Shell Beach, Portuguese Beach, Schoolhouse Beach, North and South Salmon Creek, Campbell Cove and Bodega Head.

While Southern California beach goers have been long accustomed to feeding the meter as they soak up the sun, it’s a different story here up north where a fee, even if it’s hourly based, might dissuade some pulling over.

“If it’s an hourly system, even if you want to relax, you still have to watch the clock and worry about it,” said Larissa Duff, a resident of Santa Rosa.

Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles. Photo: Andrew Vicars.
Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles. Photo: Andrew Vicars.

State Parks officials have also been unclear about how much of the money collected from Sonoma beaches would be used directly for their benefit.  Following the state parks funding scandal last summer, in which state officials prepared to close off 70 state parks while sitting on a $54 million surplus, residents seem exceptionally wary of sending money to the department.

With the hope of getting more locals on board, the state plans on appealing the decision in the next month. However, state parks has said it retains the right to make the decision an administrative order, in which case the county would have to accept it.

Locals and visitors alike recognize the importance of funding the state parks and beaches that we all value. The question becomes, how does the state raise the revenue to keep beaches open, to maintain bathrooms and to properly dispose of trash? Paid parking, even if effective, may just never be popular enough.

Bay Nature headed out to Sonoma County’s state beaches to hear what local beach goers had to say about the parking fees. Here’s what some of them had to say:

JackieJacquie Robb, retired accountant, Santa Rosa resident at South Salmon Creek Beach

“[These beaches] feel like home. It would be harder to pay for home. I just think that beaches should be free, considering that not much is anymore.”


chanaeChanae Duff, student at University of Denver, former Santa Rosa resident at North Salmon Creek Beach

“I only come every couple of months. [Paying $8 to park at the beach] just doesn’t really seem worth it.”


keithKeith Karcher, Santa Rosa resident, North Salmon Creek Beach

“We should be paying for parking, but people are just going to avoid it somehow. We don’t like paying for parking.”


Colton Brown, Sonoma resident, cashier at Diekmann’s Bay Store, Bodega Bay (general store)

“I think [paid parking] is not a bad idea. We need to maintain the bathrooms on the beaches.”

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