Bolinas parking rules will expand, after first shot had little effect

David Briggs
Overnight parking for oversized vehicles has been banned in parts of Bolinas since the spring, but visitation has increased since then, and the rules aren’t doing enough. The county will expand the restriction in January.  

Downtown parking rules in Bolinas will tighten in 2021, after the county found that a first phase of regulations put in place this spring did not improve turnover. In January, the prohibition of overnight parking by oversized vehicles will expand from one side of the downtown streets to both sides. 

The rules, which were drafted by the county and the Bolinas Community Public Utility District, addressed notorious parking congestion and abided by provisions of the California Coastal Act that protect public access to the beach. Residents narrowly passed the rules in an advisory poll two years ago, with some frustrated they were too lax to make a difference for residents and others concerned they would unfairly push out those living in their vehicles.

The regulations were divided into two phases. The first phase, which took effect in May, prohibited overnight parking between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. for oversized vehicles in front of residential stretches on Brighton and Park Avenues and on the southern side of Wharf Road. Two 20-minute parking areas were also established in front of the Bolinas Market and the post office for all types of vehicles around the clock. 

Compliance with the rules has been adequate, yet people continue to stay overnight if their vehicles aren’t overly large: The rules do not define “oversized vehicle,” instead expressly allowing three other types of vehicles—automobiles, pickup trucks and motorcycles. So far, most people living in their vehicles have also remained. Residents and the county agree that the regulations have done little to make parking easier for residents or tourists, failing to offset the fact that visitation remains high. 

Al Minvielle, a Brighton homeowner, said the new rules were a “step in the right direction,” but not enough. “We don’t get the big R.V.s camping on that side now. Some really large vehicles still park on the legal side. But these rules have not done much to restrict the overall volume of people camping in their cars,” he said. 

Sherrie Hirsch, a Wharf homeowner and another alliance member, said Covid-19 has caused visitation to rise further. “After they closed the parks, where did everyone come? People are parking up and down the streets, double parking and waiting for others to leave. It affects the residents the most, but it also affects the visitors,” she said.

Mr. Minvielle and Ms. Hirsch are part of the Bolinas Community Coastal Alliance, a group focused on local parking issues that submitted its own assessment of the effectiveness of the current rules to the county. The group pushed for the adoption of phase two, and is currently drafting its own proposal for additional restrictions for review by the community and the coastal commission. “Going forward with further implementation demonstrates a commitment to manage an increasingly out of control situation in the downtown area,” the alliance wrote. 

The county favored proceeding with the second phase of restrictions. A report from the public works department concluded that a high number of visitors continues to impact Bolinas, leaving insufficient parking turnover for daytime coastal access “in a reasonable, rational manner that also considers the impacts on local businesses and property owners.”

Several surveys conducted by the department found few instances of large vehicles parking in the newly restricted areas during sleeping hours. At 5 a.m. on Saturday, March 21, there were 89 vehicles parked on the downtown streets, seven of which were oversized; at the same time of day on Aug. 10, after the new rules were put into place, 139 vehicles were parked, four of which were oversized and none of which were violating the laws.  

Signs for the second phase will go into effect mid-January, further limiting overnight parking for oversized vehicles on the west side of Brighton, the remainder of Park and the north side of Wharf. 

Supervisors will consider the regulations again in November 2021, when they can either renew the coastal permit for the rules or discontinue the effort altogether.  

Sheriff's Lieutenant Brennan Collins, West Marin’s watch commander, said that although his deputies are not patrolling the coast between the hours of 11 p.m. and 11 a.m., units from other parts of the county are making their way out to Bolinas to make sure that parkers are in compliance. He said he has received few complaints about violations of the overnight rules, but his deputies continue to respond to complaints of people sleeping in their vehicles—an allowable practice, though vehicles must move every 72 hours under state law.

“Vehicle habitation remains an issue in Bolinas, and it presents a very difficult situation for law enforcement,” Lt. Collins said. “For some people, it is an issue of a parking complaint, while for others it is an issue of the only shelter they have. We will continue to offer services to those who need them and to recognize the very tough circumstances caused by the pandemic.”