The county is moving forward with downtown parking regulations for Bolinas with a new phased approach that addresses skepticism voiced by the California Coastal Commission.
The county’s deputy zoning administrator last week approved a coastal permit for the rule, an iteration of Measure X—the advisory poll Bolinas residents approved last fall by a narrow, 52-percent majority. The measure proposed a ban on oversized vehicles on three downtown streets between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Reflecting input from the coastal commission received this summer, the regulations would be implemented in two phases. The first phase would enact overnight restrictions for oversized vehicles in front of residential stretches on Brighton and Park Avenues and on the southern side of Wharf Road. At the same time, two 20-minute parking areas would be established in front of the Bolinas Store and the post office.
Should data collected by the county over the course of a year demonstrate that this phase does not improve parking turnover, a second phase could be enacted, expanding the same restrictions to the west side of Brighton, the remainder of Park and the northern side of Wharf.
With the deputy zoning administrator’s approval, the coastal permit for the phased regulation will now go before the Board of Supervisors for consideration. Though a date for that hearing is not yet set, the county believes it could implement the first stage by spring.
The measure responded to persistent calls from Bolinas residents to address parking congestion on downtown streets caused by heavy visitor traffic and long-term vehicle habitation and storage. Supervisor Dennis Rodoni aided the Bolinas Community Public Utility District in drafting Measure X as a preliminary solution; by tailoring it to an existing enabling ordinance, the supervisor hoped for an expedited process.
But the county’s effort to enforce the advisory poll hit a roadblock last summer, when the coastal commission indicated its disapproval. (For the rule to go into effect there must be agreement between Marin’s community development agency—the party responsible for issuing a coastal development permit—and the coastal commission, which becomes the decision-maker in the case of an appeal from either a citizen or a commissioner.)
Sara Pfeifer, the coastal commission’s North Central coast planner, wrote in June that the parking proposal “appears to be inconsistent with provisions of the Coastal Act embedded in the [Local Coastal Program]; including that the location of new development should maintain and enhance public access to the coast by providing adequate parking facilities, consistent with Coastal Act section 30252.”
In the coastal permit application approved last week, staff with the department of public works—the official applicant—acknowledged that one of the fundamental mandates of the Coastal Act is to enhance public access to the coast.
Yet they also cited other sections of the act that state that public access can indeed be regulated—by time, place and manner—to address public safety, the rights and privacy of private property owners, the proximity of public access to resident uses, and the capacity of a site to sustain public use and its intensity.
“It is the intent of the legislature that the public access policies of this article be carried out in a reasonable manner that considers the equities and that balances the rights of the individual property owner with the public’s constitutional rights of access,” D.P.W. staffers quote from the act.
In her letter, Ms. Pfeifer also questioned the efficacy of the proposed regulation, asking how it would address parking congestion during the day and whether it would simply lead people to relocate large vehicles to other parts of town. She offered an alternative: a permitted overnight parking program for oversized vehicles.
Yet in their application, county staff held firm that the regulation of oversized vehicles during the night would provide better parking flow. “The proposal intends to directly address the issue of parking turnover for day-time coastal access to Bolinas Beach and to provide for the orderly use of public property in order to encourage and enhance greater access to the coast in a manner consistent with the Marin County Local Coastal Program’s policies on public access in a reasonable, rational manner that also considers the impacts on local businesses and property owners,” they wrote.
After receiving Ms. Pfeifer’s letter, members of the Bolinas community discussed Measure X with county and commission staff, and agreed to keep its integrity, with some concessions. The proposed rule not only commits to the phases but also to data collection; within the first year, the department will submit a report showing the effect of the regulations on parking turnover. That data will determine whether a second phase will be enacted.
Data collection was a key aspect of Ms. Pfeifer’s letter, but the county did not include one of the components she discussed. Staffers rejected her suggestion that a corresponding environmental justice assessment was needed that addressed the impacts of the regulations on the disadvantaged and homeless in the area, instead arguing that existing efforts were sufficient.
“The proposed parking restrictions would not impact current and future coordinated countywide efforts to identify, prioritize and provide services for the transient or chronically homeless population,” the application states. “These efforts include Health and Human Services staff working with the Marin County Sheriff’s staff in West Marin to help any veterans who find themselves precariously housed and/or living out of vehicles find transitional housing, and then, ultimately, permanent housing. Marin County has also instituted a ‘coordinated entry’ system, which features more data sharing among government agencies and nonprofits serving the homeless.”
Ten Bolinas residents spoke at the hearing last Thursday when Jeremy Tejirian, who was serving as the deputy zoning administrator, approved the permit. Two spoke against the regulation and the rest expressed their support—though they disliked the phasing.
Wilbur Richards, who identified himself as an itinerant, said he avoids parking his school bus in Bolinas on weekends “because it takes up room that’s more valuable for the people that come and spend way more money than I do.”
“I think Bolinas is a magical place, and it is a place of healing to me,” he said. “I go there to enjoy the muses that talk to me. I think we need to resolve the parking issue; however, just getting rid of all the overnight campers is not going to do the trick. Some sort of mitigation is required, and I notice next to the firehouse on Mesa Road is over an acre of parking that is underutilized, in my opinion. So I hope you guys get creative and make it work for everybody.”
Karen Green, a Bolinas resident, said the housing crisis has reached a point where “there are long-term residents who have grown up in Bolinas who have no housing, and that’s the majority of the folks who are parked on Brighton to the west.” She added, “When they don’t have a place to park, I don’t know where they are going to go.”
Others persisted that regulation is necessary. John FitzPatrick, who owns a home on the mesa, said there is simply no place to park downtown. “I feel empathy for people, but I don’t know how far we are supposed to go to help people. It is expensive to live [in Bolinas], we pay a lot of taxes to support the town, and then there are the people who park there, and I don’t know what they do,” he said.
Chuck McFarland, a homeowner on Brighton, noted that many of the oversized vehicles were brand-new and luxurious. He favored the regulations but said he was worried about the phases. “Phased implementation causes unintended complications, essentially sanctioning long-term camping on the west side of [Brighton],” he said. “I didn’t see a lot of particulars [in the application] with regard to enforcement, and the sheriff’s office has a limited number of resources it can provide… We need to have regulations that can be enforced fairly to the entire population.”
Sherrie Hirsch, who owns a home on Wharf Road, said she thought the phased approach would just push campers to the streets slated for a second phase. But something is better than nothing, she said.
“Some people do come and spend time [on Wharf] for [short] periods of time, but we have also had people literally live there—with boat trailers, with out-of-state plates,” she said. “Even with the imperfections that we see in this proposal, we think something needs to be done to begin the process of putting something together that will work and will also take into account the needs that were expressed earlier for the ability to come to Bolinas in a vehicle and spend a day or so.”
To bolster the regulation, which many feel does not go far enough, a BCPUD subcommittee was formed last week to explore the possibility of a parking permit program for residents.