State pushes ahead to charge for parking at Sonoma, Mendocino County beaches

California State Parks is moving forward with a controversial plan to expand the number of beaches along the Sonoma and Mendocino County coasts where visitors must pay for parking.

The agency has come under withering fire since it was revealed two weeks ago that officials were sitting on a hidden surplus of nearly $54 million while at the same time they sought to shut dozens of state parks.

That controversy has not derailed proposals to charge visitors $8 a day at numerous beaches along the North Coast, 20 years after a similar effort sparked months of protest that ultimately forced the state to rescind the fees.

"We haven't withdrawn the application," said Liz Burko, superintendent of the Russian River District and acting superintendent of the Mendocino District.

State officials say the new day-use fees 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.

But opposition to the parking fee plan has grown, with Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo saying last week the plans should be shelved.

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.

In a June 26 letter to Sonoma County planners, Stephanie Coleman, an environmental coordinator for state parks, argued that the state agency has the authority to implement the new fees as an "administrative decision."

She wrote that the agency has agreed to apply for a county coastal development permit to install 15 self-pay machines despite her analysis that such approval is not required under the state's Coastal Act.

Coleman did not return a call seeking comment.

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