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OpEd - NO Iron Rangers on Our Sonoma Coast

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OpEd - NO Iron Rangers on Our Sonoma Coast

By Norma Jellison

The citizens of Sonoma County fought for coastal access for all in the 1970s. Out of that effort by many citizens of Bodega Bay and inland communities, like our beloved Bill Kortum, the Coastal Act was passed to ensure public access to the entire California coastline - the public commons. 

The California Coastal Act was passed to improve and expand public access to the coast. The California Coastal Commission was created to regulate development along the coast and ensure public access. Many environmental steward organizations still dedicated to coastal conservation grew out of this battle, Sonoma County Conservation Action and Coastwalk among them. 

Save Our Coast and Free Our Beaches was the rallying cry in the 1970s. It appears we’ll need to rally once again.   

California State Parks proposes to install Iron Rangers - self-pay parking mechanisms - at 15 beaches in Sonoma County. Included in the proposal are Bodega Head (including Campbell Cove), Salmon Creek Beach (North and South), Goat Rock, Shell Beach, Portuguese Beach, Schoolhouse Beach and Salt Point, along with other locations on the Sonoma Coast. All of these are currently free, so this would result in an 80% reduction in free access to the coast and its beaches. 

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously (5-0) denied the State’s application for a Coastal Permit to install the Iron Rangers. The State has appealed the denial to the California Coastal Commission seeking to over turn the denial and move ahead with the Iron Ranger installations.

Stare Parks rationale for the Iron Rangers is they need the revenue to open closed parks and rest rooms, pay for rangers and maintenance of the parks. However, revenues do not stay where fees are collected, so the false promises of better care are just that.  Fees collected will go into the State General Fund. No guarantee they will even go to State Parks.  

State Parks also likes to point to the fact that many, if not most, of Southern California beaches have fee entry - parking meters, iron rangers or fee collection booths. 

The Sonoma Coast is not Southern California, where walk on beaches are accessible from flat paved parking lots. Most of our beaches are below highly erodable cliffs. Access is down steep pathways and stairs that erode or are damaged in winter storms. Many of the parking lots are small gravel lots.  

Anyone who has come to the coast on a holiday weekend or in prime beach season will attest to what happens. Parking lots fill quickly and vehicles seek whatever pull outs and shoulder area is available. Pedestrians then walk along Route 1 to get to the beach access paths. A few simply slide down the cliff from where they park.  To call it a mad house would be an understatement.  

Installing Iron Rangers will exacerbate this situation, turning it from an occasional event into standard procedure. To avoid paying the fee, more people will park on Rt 1’s limited shoulders or park in adjacent neighborhoods, negatively impacting them. 

Visitors will be crossing Rt 1 from the neighborhoods to gain access. Walking on Rt 1 will be a constant, rather than an occasional event. More people will likely climb down cliffs to get to the beaches, negatively impacting the coastal bluff environment. 

The potential for people to get hurt as they try to avoid paying will be high. The financial burden for the local community’s fire district is already great and will only increase. Bodega Bay firefighters are constantly responding to 911 emergency calls for cliff rescues, auto accidents and health incidents along the Sonoma Coast. Continued unpaid emergency response is not sustainable.

Accessibility for the mobility challenged will be a problem in the gravel parking lots. There is simply no way to create a safe path of travel between a designated handicap parking stall and the Iron Ranger in most of these parking lots. 

This need to provide an adequate safe access pathway to the Iron Rangers would require construction. This creates a “project” subject to environmental review under the CA Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). State Parks filed a Categorical  Exemption for the Iron Rangers application for a Coastal Permit from the County. They argues the Iron Rangers have no adverse negative impact on the environment, being merely a pole in the ground to collect fees. Complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide safe path of access would trigger a change in the application for a Coastal Permit, requiring a new application to the County and a new CEQA analysis.   

When the citizens of Sonoma County led the charge for public access to the coast, our population was much smaller, both in the County and in the State.  Today, over 3 million visitors from all over CA, the US and the world come to coast each year.  

Most importantly, our beaches provide free access to the ocean and the out of doors for a large population that depends on free access to recreational opportunities. Collecting fees has an oversized burden for these Environmental Justice Communities of Concern. 

Iron Rangers are not the answer to State Parks’ financial and stovepipe bureaucratic challenges.  Limiting public access for all to our California coast is not the way forward any of us should embrace. 

The State’s appeal, asking to overturn the County denial of a Coastal Permit, goes before the CA Coastal Commission during its April 15-17 meeting in San Rafael. 

The agenda has yet to be released to know what day this appeal will be heard by the Commission. The meeting location is the Marin County Board of Supervisors Chambers 3501 Civic Center Drive, Suite 329, San Rafael.

Perhaps its time to charter some buses and storm the ramparts to show that Sonoma County citizens are still solidly behind free public access to our coast’s beaches.   

You can also add your name and comments to an online petition hosted by the Surfrider Foundation, by going to the Sonoma Coast Surfrider Facebook page. - Iron Ranger Petition and please visit our website and Facebook page for updates: sonomacoast.surfrider.org/