Cost of state beach parking increases

For some, living near the beach in Orange County is a priceless luxury.

But actually going to the beach — by car, anyway — is about to get a little pricier.

The California Dept. of Parks and Recreation announced this month that annual vehicle passes at state parks will increase from $125 to $195.

Among the locations affected are six in Orange County: Crystal Cove State Park and Bolsa Chica, Huntington, Corona del Mar, San Clemente and Doheny state beaches.

The department announced April 12 that it would raise the price of several annual passes, including those for vehicle use, on May 1.

The cost for single-day use and camping fees will remain the same in most areas, although some regional superintendents may adjust fees for specific parks, spokesman Roy Stearns said.

The department cut $11 million from its budget last year and expects an identical cut this year. The higher charges are meant to curb some of that loss.

Stearns said he hopes the increased fees will bring in between $1 million and $1.5 million in added revenue. The state was set to close 70 parks in July, although donors and partners have come through with funding to keep 16 of them open.

The funds from the higher annual pass fees are meant to alleviate the burden on some of the parks remaining open.

"This is truly one more way to achieve some additional revenue," Stearns said. "Is it enough to keep a park from closing? No. It's a small amount of money, but we're hoping to mitigate the number of service reductions we've been doing all across the state."

The department, he said, has reduced bathroom cleaning, open hours, garbage pickup and other services.

None of the parks slated for closure are in Orange County. The area's coastal parks are among the state's most profitable, according to Stearns.

"SoCal beaches get some of the highest visitor-ship, therefore some of the highest revenue," he said. "Those places come closest to breaking even."

Marty Bounds, a manager at Jack's Surfboards in downtown Huntington, said many of his customers have annual passes. The increased fee might prove difficult for some, he said, but some might be willing to shell out if walking to the beach was the only alternative.

"If you're going to Huntington State Beach, you'd have to park at, like, Edison High School," Bounds said. "And for Bolsa Chica, you can't park anywhere. You'd have to park up Warner [Avenue] in Sunset Beach, where the water tower used to be. That's far."

Stearns, though, said the number of people who walk to the beach is part of the reason the department has been losing money. He implored people who visit the beach to pay for parking.

"We would desperately like people to just not walk around the kiosk," Stearns said. "Please, drive in. Please, help us with our revenue problems. Please, help pay for the resources that you're enjoying."

Some of the pass owners who spent Friday morning at Huntington State Beach said they were happy to do just that, even with the higher charges.

Huntington residents Mike Sheeran and Ammer Naber, who surf regularly at the beach, said they go there often enough that the extra dollars are worth it.

"I get to use this beach for an entire year, five times a week," Naber said. "That's a joke. That's the best entertainment value you can get for your money."

Vanessa Batten, a stay-at-home mother from Fountain Valley, said she had bought a pass the past three years and that it made for perfect family trips.

"I have my kids, and this is part of why we live here, to come down and enjoy it," she said. "And I guess if [paying more] means keeping parks open and available, it's worth it to some extent."

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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