Parking fees proposed in August for Stinson Beach and other lots in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area are drawing backlash from locals. In petitions and letters, Marin residents and local officials voiced their opposition to new charges at the recreation area’s beaches, where visitors can now park for free, arguing they would diminish equitable coastal access and worsen the already difficult parking situation in Stinson Beach.
The recreation area proposed the $3-per-hour fees, which also apply to Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands and Baker and China Beaches in San Francisco, among others. The daily maximum would be $10, and the fees would take effect in late 2022.
The recreation area, which was the second-most visited national park in the country last year, does not charge any entrance fees. It would retain 80 percent of the revenue generated by the fees to fund operations like traffic control and facilities improvements such as a replacement of the Stinson Beach lifeguard tower.
Stinson Beach Village Association president Mike Matthews said these projects might be important, but they don’t justify the park’s proposal.
“We’re more conceptually against parking fees than interested in how the funds might be spent,” he said. “Would everybody like there to be more money spent on things? Yes. Do people want parking fees to accomplish that? No.”
When the fees were proposed last month, Park spokesman Julian Espinoza said the recreation area was “committed to ensuring underserved audiences have access to parks and all of the inspiring opportunities they have to offer.”
“We have worked hard to ensure the proposed fees are affordable and in keeping with costs for similar nearby amenities offered by other organizations,” he added. He declined to comment last week on the response to the fees.
Many Stinson Beach residents are concerned that the fees would exacerbate the town’s parking problems. On busy days, the beach lot quickly fills up, and beachgoers seek parking along the shoulders of roads and on side streets. Locals have complained about congestion and overcrowding.
“If somebody shows up and it’s $10 to park, that person is going to drive around town looking for a parking space,” Mr. Matthews said. “It’s basically going to push visitors into the town and have us dealing with the overflow parking that we have to deal with on a big beach day.”
This summer, the county established seven new fire lanes in Stinson Beach and boosted fines in several no-parking zones from $99 to $163. But the new lanes don’t cover the whole town, and some residents want even higher penalties.
Annie Rand, a longtime homeowner on Panoramic Highway, said the problem was growing steadily worse even before the pandemic brought especially large crowds.
“I’ve lived here full-time since ‘72, and just the last couple of years is when they’ve started parking all the way up Panoramic,” Ms. Rand said. She would prefer to see higher fines for illegal parking rather than a fee for the public parking lot.
Parking concerns aren’t just about congestion and inconvenience. Stinson Beach fire chief Jesse Peri penned a letter to the recreation area’s superintendent, Laura Joss, raising concerns over the proposed fee’s impacts on public safety and emergency response.
His letter, which was co-signed by representatives from the Stinson Beach Village Association, the Seadrift Association, the Bolinas Fire Protection District, the Stinson Beach County Water District and the Bolinas Community Public Utility District, asked for an extended deadline for public comment to allow for more community input.
“Any implementation of parking fees for the Park will force visitors to seek free parking in the adjacent communities, leading to a dramatic increase in vehicles blocking emergency vehicle access and parking in high fire danger areas,” Chief Peri wrote in the letter.
An online petition with more than 400 signatures addressed to the California Coastal Commission, the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior, Rep. Jared Huffman and Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls for a stop to the parking fees and an alternative funding source for the recreation area.
“Our campaign against this proposal is not an anti-parks campaign. It’s a pro-parks campaign,” said Miranda Darley, the petition’s organizer and a volunteer with the Surfrider Foundation. “G.G.N.R.A. isn’t getting the funding it needs. We believe they should be going to N.P.S. and Congress, not individual taxpayers.”
Chief among Ms. Darley’s concerns is coastal access. Stinson Beach is among the recreation area’s sites that have limited public transit options, so parking fees are a barrier to entry for visitors.
“We’re concerned that a lot of people are going to lose access to the coast,” Ms. Darley told the Light. “With some of these beaches, there isn’t really a difference between a parking fee and an entrance fee, which is what we want the coastal commission to look at.”
The coastal commission will review the proposed fees, said spokeswoman Noaki Schwartz, but the agency does not yet have a position on them.
The California Coastal Act makes it clear that visitors should be granted “maximum access” to the state’s beaches, and Ms. Schwartz said the commission expects G.G.N.R.A. to work with the commission through its federal consistency review process.
Ms. Darley, the petition organizer, cited a 2015 coastal commission decision to uphold a Sonoma County decision. That county rejected parking fees proposed by California State Parks for a string of beaches in Sonoma Coast and Salt Point State Parks. The commission found that the proposal, which would have involved installing self-pay parking stations at 14 state beach parking lots, would reduce public access, especially for low-income users, and lead to unsafe spillover parking in highway pullouts nearby.
Ms. Darley helped advocate for denying the fees. “We were hoping that if we were able to stop that from happening, that it would set precedent for the rest of the coast,” she said.
“I know that the coastal commission has different jurisdiction for federal land than they do for state parks, but I know that they should be involved,” Ms. Darley added. “I don’t know that it’s necessarily the same legal argument, but it brings up the same concerns, and I would hope that that would have set precedent.”