County park seeks management of Bodega Head to thwart state fees
Sonoma County park officials are seeking to take over management of Bodega Head, the latest maneuver in a pitched four-year battle over day-use fees that could be decided Wednesday at a rare meeting of the California Coastal Commission in Santa Rosa.
Bodega Head is one of eight Sonoma Coast locations where California State Parks is seeking to impose new day-use fees of up to $8. None carries more significance than Bodega Head, which is among the state’s most popular, drawing hundreds of visitors on busy days to marvel at the iconic view of Sonoma’s rugged coastline.
State Parks views Bodega Head and the other seven beaches it operates as potential new revenue sources to help pay for services. But Caryl Hart, the county’s regional parks director, said charging a fee at the site “would prevent people from experiencing what is theirs.”
Sonoma County supervisors are expected Tuesday to approve giving Hart the authority to pitch the county’s management plan at Wednesday’s Coastal Commission public hearing on the state’s fee proposal.
The county’s proposal escalates stakes at the meeting of the powerful agency overseeing the state’s coastline. The 9 a.m. meeting was moved from the supervisors’ chambers to Veterans Memorial Building in Santa Rosa in anticipation of a large crowd.
Among the far-reaching implications of the meeting are the future of California’s bedrock provisions protecting coastal access and the ability of Sacramento to impose new charges for public sites that have long been free to visit. That includes Bodega Head, which exemplifies the fee debate.
A State Parks report released Friday included data showing that on holidays such as July 4 and Labor Day, more than 2,000 vehicles jockey for parking slots at Bodega Head, which has space for fewer than 200.
State officials contend fees would provide revenue and better-managed site access. They argue that charging fees at Bodega Head and seven other beach locations is no different from the county charging $7 at beaches it operates. Statewide, fees are charged at approximately 24 percent of California’s beaches.
On the Sonoma Coast, the state is seeking to impose new parking fees at four parking lots at Goat Rock and at two at Bodega Head. The remaining sites are Shell Beach and Stump Beach. The proposal seeks day-use fees of up to $3 an hour, or $8 a day. There would be no charge for visits up to 30 minutes.
State officials Friday unveiled a proposal for a Sonoma Coast State Park pass that people could purchase to access local beaches. The report also touts existing statewide passes, including one for $5 that is available to people who qualify for financial assistance.
Gloria Sandoval, a spokeswoman for State Parks, described the agency’s proposal as a “modest, flexible day-use parking fee” that can be used to maintain amenities such as restrooms and “help ensure park-goers elsewhere in the state are not subsidizing visitors to Sonoma County state beaches.”
Sonoma Coast State Park’s 35 miles of coastline, including Goat Rock, Shell Beach, Bodega Head and Stump Beach, ran a deficit of $3.25 million in fiscal year 2013-14, according to the state report.
But state officials concede they cannot guarantee money generated by new fees on the Sonoma Coast would be used to support operations there.