Half Moon Bay City Council hosted a study session on Tuesday evening to consider potential options for managing beach access and traffic. A continual problem for the city during summertime and fall has become a hot topic at a time when many in the Bay Area are looking for any respite from the pandemic.
The public messaging has sometimes been mixed. State and local authorities have closed, then reopened beaches, campgrounds and parking lots. Though public health officials are asking people to stick to day trips within their own counties, they also laud the benefits of getting outdoors. Whatever the reason, tourists have been flocking to the Coastside.
In response, city officials are considering ways to manage beach access, but they must also manage some legal constraints. The city is located entirely with the California Coastal Zone and is subject to provisions of the California Coastal Act, which ensures public access to the coast and beaches.
Since the coast is largely inaccessible by public transportation, the majority of visitors come by personal vehicle. That means heavy traffic up and down highways 1 and 92 during peak months. Parking lots at city beaches are sometimes underutilized, as people choose to park for free in nearby neighborhoods. Residents report excess trash and noise as a result.
City staff presented a medley of options to relieve some of the issues.
Collectively, the beaches in the Half Moon Bay area, including properties owned by California State Parks, have approximately 900 paid parking spaces. Sometimes people park on nearby streets because the lots are overflowing. One option uses data from the electronic pay station at Poplar Beach to create an app or online tool to direct visitors to find available parking. This alternative would be reliant on State Parks implementing an electronic parking system at their beaches and the willingness to share data with the city.
Another idea floated by residents and City Council members was to create resident-only parking restrictions. The Coastal Commission does not favor the proposal because it severely limits beach access. Also costs associated with rolling out a permit program would be put on both residents and the city. As a result, city staff does not recommend neighborhood permits.
Other ideas presented by city staff include designing new signs directing motorists to available parking lots at both city and State Parks beaches and finding other sites for overflow parking near Poplar. City staff said options are limited for new parking because of environmental restrictions and the challenge presented by undeveloped land. One possibility is to use the parking lot at Hatch Elementary School on the weekends, but that won’t happen until next summer at the earliest, they say.
The study session, held before the regular City Council meeting and after Review print deadlines, was intended to begin the conversation.