Your right to walk on the beach is guaranteed in the state constitution.
But a restroom? A lifeguard? Trash collection? A convenient parking place? None of these is promised in Article X, Section 4 of the constitution, nor in any of the myriad state laws and legal decisions defining the boundaries of coastal access. There's certainly no assurance of amenities without a charge.
California collects entry fees at more than 30 state beaches to help offset taxpayer costs for parking lots, rangers, sanitation and other services — just as entry fees are assessed at most of the other 240 state parks and museums.
If you visit Doheny State Beach in Orange County, you'll pay $15 to park your car. It's $10 at A? Nuevo in San Mateo County and $8 at Salt Point, Tomales Bay and Russian Gulch on the North Coast.
Fees have never been collected at most of the beaches along the Sonoma Coast, and some residents have come to see that as their birthright.
After imposing a $5 parking fee at several locations in the early 1990s, state officials backed down in the face of angry protests at Bodega Head. The state is again moving to assess fees at Sonoma Coast beaches (this time, it's $8), and another round of protests is getting started. This time, the state shouldn't back down.
No one is eager to pay more — or to start paying for something that's been available for free. That's human nature.
Unfortunately, given present circumstances, refusing to pay is short-sighted.
California was on the verge of closing as many as 70 state parks. With a budget deficit now projected at $15.7 billion, and legislative Democrats balking at further cuts to social services and health care, it's a virtual certainty that parks won't get more state money for the foreseeable future. Offered a chance in 2010 to raise vehicle registration fees enough to rescind all state park entry fees, voters said no.
Some parks will be spared courtesy of the National Park Service, local governments, including Sonoma County, and private benefactors. All of them intend to collect fees to keep the parks open, and legislators are beginning to focus on fees going uncollected at other parks as a source of revenue.
State parks have been shortchanged for years, with deferred maintenance topping $1 billion. They need a dedicated source of revenue. They also must continue to fulfill one of their major purposes: providing affordable recreation. State legislators also are considering tax-form checkoffs and vanity license plates. Those are fine ideas, but the fact is an $8 fee is less than the cost of a movie ticket or a single beer at most professional sports events.
Rather than protesting plans to assess fees already collected elsewhere, we'd like to see efforts to ensure that entry fees benefit our area parks.
One such effort is a bill by state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, that would earmark half of park fees for the district where they are collected.
Meanwhile, the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, one of the nonprofit groups seeking to save state parks, proposes to use fees collected at area beaches to pay for campground improvements and to keep Austin Creek State Recreation Area open.
The stewards plan public meetings at the Bodega Bay Grange on June 6 and the Monte Rio Community Center on June 11. Both meetings start at 6 p.m., and each is an opportunity to discuss long-term funding options for parks and beaches.