Sonoma Coast

Beach Access

Sonoma Coast Beach Parking Fee Campaign

Surfrider Foundation understands that in order to keep State Parks open, well maintained, and protect natural resources creative short term and long term solutions are needed. We are sympathetic to the difficult economic situation the State is in and believe that reasonable park fees are necessary to maintain our parks and keep them open. That said, all efforts to institute new fees within State Parks must be conducted with thorough community input and involvement. Surfrider wants to ensure that all impacts associated with installing pay stations are thoroughly evaluated, including, but not limited to: environmental impacts, signage, traffic analysis, socioeconomic implications and other community concerns that are raised during a public process.

In 2012, Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) proposed to install parking fee collection devices at 14 State beaches along the Sonoma Coastline. Included in the proposal were Bodega Head, Campbell Cove, Salmon Creek Beach (North and South), Goat Rock, Shell Beach, Portuguese Beach, Schoolhouse Beach and Stump Beach, along with other locations on the Sonoma Coast. All of the beach access points proposed for fees had historically been free and are undeveloped lots with sensitive bluffs adjacent to Highway 1. This proposal would have resulted in an 80% reduction in free access to beaches and had a significant negative impact on coastal resources and pubic access, particularly for low income families. Sonoma Coast Surfrider expressed legitimate concerns about the beach parking fee plan to Sonoma County’s government. Due to the efforts of Sonoma Coast Surfrider working closely with other non-profits and the public, the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments and Board of Supervisors both rejected DPR’s proposal in 2013. Subsequently, DPR then filed an appeal with the California Coastal Commission (CCC).  In a 2015 CCC hearing and despite our efforts, DPR succeeded in removing jurisdiction from local hands. The Coastal Commission in a close vote approved DPR’s request to have the issue determined at a State level.

Sonoma Coast Surfrider advocated that a stakeholder process be initiated and we worked with DPR, local State Parks staff, the County of Sonoma, the CCC and other stakeholders to provide input. We also advocated that  the Coastal Commission hearing to decide the issue be heard locally so that the people of Sonoma County who would be most impacted by the fee proposal could more readily attend and express their concerns. At the April 2016 Coastal Commission hearing in Santa Rosa, DPR presented a revised proposal that reduced the fee locations to 8 beach parking lots, still including Bodega Head, Shell Beach, Goat Rock and Stump Beach. Sonoma Coast Surfrider fought to stop the revised proposal due to many unresolved issues and was successful in preventing a decision at that meeting to fee a large portion of the Sonoma Coast.
Currently the County, Coastal Commission, and Department of Parks and Recreation are in negotiations to explore further reduction of beach parking fee locations and to address funding challenges for maintaining Sonoma Coast State Beach Parks. Sonoma Coast Surfrider remains vigilant about these negotiations to ensure that public access is protected.  For a history of our effort to preserve public access to our coast including a short film which highlights the issue, please click on the link below.

If you would like to help keep our Sonoma County Beaches accessible to all, please consider joining our efforts at Sonoma Coast Surfrider.


Sonoma Coast Access Battles of the Past

Iron Rangers and a Kiosk

In 1992 the California Coastal Commission (CCC) granted a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) to State Parks and Recreation for installation of parking fee collection devices at three Sonoma Coast locations. This included a Ranger-manned portable kiosk at Goat Rock and “Iron Rangers” at Campbell Cove and Russian Gulch. Under familiar circumstances, the project’s purpose was to offset a reduction in the Department’s operating budget and was undertaken pursuant to direction from Legislature and the Governor. The project’s Conditions of Approval were to 1) conform with the provisions of Chapter 3 of the California Coastal Act, 2) not have any significant adverse impacts on the environment within the meaning of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and 3) institute the submitted monitoring program at each location to identify adverse impacts that may result from the project, including an annual report. Chapter 3 (Coastal Resources Planning and Management Policies) of the Coastal Act includes Articles on public access, recreation, marine environment, land resources, and development.

Sonoma County residents were very upset by the new requirement to pay for parking at these beaches. Strong discontent was expressed to elected officials and spirited protest gatherings were held on the coast at the fee locations. The Surfrider Foundation sued CCC over its CDP decision and the City of Fort Bragg intervened on behalf of Surfrider. The lawsuit claimed the Project did not comply with CEQA requirements and was not consistent with public access and recreation policies of the Coastal Act. CCC won that case in Superior Court and the decision was appealed by the City of Fort Bragg. In 1994 the Appeals Court upheld the Commission’s CDP action. Despite the Court of Appeals outcome and going as far as negotiating an agreement with Sonoma County, the State ultimately did not construct the project and the Coastal Development Permit was allowed to expire.

The Hole in the Head

In 1958 Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) proposed to build the first nuclear power plant in the United States at Bodega Bay. PG&E was granted a permit for site preparation while the project’s construction was going through the approval process. They dug a 100-foot deep pit in the granite headland for the proposed 325-megawatt reactor. The site was fenced and guarded with a security kiosk.

A facility of this type would certainly threaten public access to Bodega Head, not to mention the dangers of radiation. Opposition from environmental organizations and the local community was tremendously robust. Dr. Joel Hedgpeth, Karl Kortum and Harold Gilliam founded the Northern California Association to Preserve Bodega Head and Harbor (NCAPBHH), later joined by David Pesonen, Karl’s wife Jean and his brother Bill, Doris Sloan, Hazel Bonnecke Mitchell and others. They challenged PG&E at public meetings about the studies that vetted the project. Fishermen voiced their concern that the plant’s location and thermal discharge would interfere with their livelihood. Then it was pointed out by geophysicist Pierre Saint-Amand that the proposed site sat on top of the San Andreas Fault. After a negative review by the Atomic Energy Commission, PG&E withdrew its application and canceled plans for the plant in 1964. Minimal site remediation was undertaken and the hole remains to this day, filled with water that provides a deep pond for local and migratory birds.