County should control tourism

05/11/2016

Residents in Muir Beach and Stinson Beach have complained for years about traffic and parking jams on weekends and in summer; now Bolinas is becoming dangerously crowded with tourist traffic backups preventing emergency vehicles from getting to where they are needed. At Muir Woods, the park service is being sued and forced to develop a system for allocating tourists to non-peak hours. They will have to produce a shuttle service someday soon. The seashore has a shuttle bus system for the lighthouse part of the year, and other parking lots are full on many weekends.  

To make matters worse, Marin in 2015 modified Local Coastal Program amendments to rezone the core areas in five of our villages to give a preference to visitor-serving commercial uses in ground-floor spaces facing the street. This will make it difficult to create a new building, or refurbish an existing space, for residential use in these highly visible locations. The commercial uses will attract more tourists. 

We currently have nearly the perfect land-use mix in our villages, and most residents appreciate the lived-in appearance of the streets, so this policy to homogenize the core areas is a bad one. It will make our streets look more like strip malls.

In 2006, Bolinas created a plan for parking meters with two-hour limits and resident parking permits, but the coastal commission rejected it, as inhibiting public access to the coast. Supervisor Steve Kinsey recently said that any parking changes would have to balance local needs with visitor interests. This is not the response we want from our supervisor. To see this future, just walk around one of the many coastal towns in Southern California, or take a walk in Sonoma, St. Helena, Calistoga or Healdsburg on a weekend.  

Supervisors, instead of trying to reduce traffic impacts of tourism over the past several years, adopted new policies for coastal ag lands that will make it much easier to build about 30 more housing units, up to about 25 small ag processing plants in existing buildings, and up to about 20 new small ag retail buildings, most of the latter probably near to Highway 1. These new activities will increase traffic by about 5,400 trips per week (275,000 trips a year) at build-out and mostly along dangerous stretches of highway with poor driveway sightlines. 

These policies will directly benefit a maximum of 60 landowners; working to reduce auto traffic and parking on weekends in our villages would benefit most of the 16,000 people who live out here. This is called bad priorities, or serving the organized commercial interests. Ag product in 2012 was about $80 million, and was over $100 million in 2014; there is continuous  growth in ag income without new development. Tourism earnings, however, were about $1 billion, over 10 times as much. Tourism is the issue we need to address. Ag is doing just fine without 100,000 square feet of new
development.

Several national parks have shuttles to popular destinations to handle traffic overloads. The management of peak-period tourism to spread activities out over weekdays is a well-known strategy in Europe. Most of us feel that we can handle a few more tourists during the week, but need to limit traffic on weekends. 

The county needs to study the use of peak-period pricing, where weekday and non-summer accommodations are less expensive and better-advertised, and peak-period attractions are not promoted. Also, local motels and tourist offices can schedule tourist events during weekdays and off-season times, especially for group travelers and retired people. Road tolls are generally difficult, legally, but parking charges are effective if coupled with signage near freeways projecting parking capacity available in destination areas. We should also study ways of reducing day-tripping tourists and increasing overnight visitors, to increase the spending per car trip. Using the web and social media sites to advertise weekday packages works in many regions of the world.  

The Point Reyes Station Village Association will hold a meeting for all coastal villages on Thursday, Sept. 22 at the Dance Palace called “Tourism: Challenges and Opportunities.” A second meeting will be held on Thursday, Nov. 9. These meetings are an important beginning. Above all, it is important to not increase parking in our villages and parks, as this is the factor limiting tourist travel in saturated areas.  

I attended two District 4 supervisor candidates nights and I heard only one candidate state that the L.C.P. amendments will increase development and traffic, and so should not be adopted. Most of the other candidates wanted to reduce traffic, but supported the amendments. I hope these candidates will discuss why they don’t see a connection between more development in outlying areas and more traffic.  

We do not need more housing or new industrial and commercial uses on ag lands. And we need to manage tourists to reduce weekend traffic, to the extent that we can. These policies will improve access for residents, as well as for tourists. The coastal commission cannot improve “coastal visitor access” if we have gridlock. We need the county to support us in this effort, not make it more difficult.  

 

Robert A. Johnston is a retired professor living in Inverness.