Does CA need to reconsider parking permits for its state parks?

| May 3, 2013

Drive to a state park in California and you probably won’t see park staff. There might not even be an iron ranger, those metal boxes that collect parking permit and camping fees from users.

That’s not good. The parking permit fees provide the bulk of parks’ revenue, funding the upkeep and maintenance of the state’s many enviable natural resources. Poor enforcement allows park-goers to ignore the fees, which, at $10 to $15 per day, can quickly drain the wallets of repeat visitors. Yearly passes priced at $195 can also seem steep to California’s famously tight-fisted citizenry.

Redwoods in Humboldt State Park, California

California’s state parks are some of the most impressive in the country – and increasingly, the cash-strapped state is relying on them to generate revenues. From Dougtone.

Indeed, it’s the state’s simultaneous hostility towards taxes and weakness for public spending that many blame for California’s economic crisis two years ago. At the time, it faced a $27 billion deficit and, according to Standard & Poor, the worst credit rating of all fifty states. Two of its cities—Stockton and San Bernardino—had declared bankruptcy, and its unemployment rate hovered near 12.4 percent.

California is projected to end the fiscal year 2013 with an $850 million surplus.

While that’s obvious improvement, the state’s recovery remains fragile, and there’s interest in discovering a better parking permit system for its state parks. Already regular users of the parks’ hiking and biking pathways are sidestepping the parking permit fees by parking on nearby streets.

Beach pass parking hangtag

Consumers may see parking passes like this beach pass as more acceptable because they provide a concrete advantage – getting closer to the water. Beach pass from

Although current governor Jerry Brown hasn’t been shy about raising taxes—and increasing parking permit fees is certainly one option—a more palatable alternative might be offering regional passes the way that national forests do. In that scenario, a user could purchase an annual pass for, say, $75 and gain admittance to state parks in two or three counties. While California would lose out on the $195 that the same user might’ve paid for the current yearly pass (a $120 difference), it could gain more repeat local visitors overall.

Introducing parking meters has also been suggested. Park-goers interested in visiting a coastal park during low tide, for instance, might balk at the $10-$15 daily fee and seek free parking on nearby streets. They may, however, be more inclined to pay the hourly rates of parking meters that put them in closer proximity to the beach.

Abandoned house in Bodie, CA, ghost town

How exactly does the state plan to convince people to pay to park in ghost towns like this State Park in Bodie, CA? From C Jill Reed.

Or the state could try a tack introduced last month by Nebraska senator Bill Avery, who proposed eliminating park permit fees for state residents and replacing the lost revenue with a $7 registration fee to be levied for most motor vehicles. Nonresidents would still be required to purchase a park permit.

The proposal failed, but it does point to states’ desire for a more stable funding source for parks. And it might be that a diversified pricing scheme—parking meters, regional and yearly passes, as well as a portion of motor vehicle registration fees—would be the best path to follow in the future.

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Category: Enforcement, Parking, State

About the Author ()

Cielo Lutino is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for such publications as the L Magazine and Portland Monthly, and her literary nonfiction has appeared in journals such as the Los Angeles Review and Cold Mountain Review.

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