Poplar Beach Parking Lot
Cars parked in the Poplar Beach parking lot in Half Moon Bay on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. Adam Pardee / Review

Parking permits at Poplar Beach will no longer be available to Half Moon Bay residents only.

The city approved a change that would make the permits at the city-owned beach available to all visitors, nine years after it adopted a local-only policy for its 12-month and nine-month annual permits. The change is part of a coordinated effort between the California Coastal Commission and cities within the coastal zone to ensure equitable public access to public beaches.

Concerns about the city’s resident-only permits surfaced in the Coastal Commission when the city put forward an application in July to adjust its parking fee structure at Poplar Beach. The city’s application proposed the city would begin accepting the State Parks’ Golden Bear Pass for low-income individuals, along with increases to the local-only annual passes. In reviewing the city’s proposal, the Commission questioned whether the city’s existing fee structure should have been implemented in the first place.

“Parking fees are well known for their potential to significantly adversely impact public recreational access users, especially those least able to afford such fees, and, thus, the Coastal Act and LCP require that such projects be thoughtfully evaluated for consistency,” according to a Coastal Commission staff report.

The report concluded that the city couldn’t modify a fee structure that was never authorized by a coastal development permit to begin with. Authorization granted through a coastal development permit ensures that any local actions are consistent with the Coastal Act’s aims to enhance public access to the California shoreline.

The change would also bring the city in alignment with the California State Parks annual permit options, which are currently open to all. A city staff report on the issue supported this “seamless” operation, given that Poplar Beach is buttressed by state beaches.

The City Council approved the removal of the resident-only permit in a unanimous vote on Oct. 6.

Revenue from the Poplar Beach permits has partially offset improvements to the area in and around the beach, including funding the city’s contract with Abundant Grace Coastside Worker, which deploys a coastal cleanup crew weekly. But John Doughty, the city’s public works director, said revenue from the permit has historically been insufficient in covering the city’s costs.

The city will continue issuing an indefinite number of permits for 93 parking spaces at Poplar Beach. As before, the permits do not guarantee parking.

“This is no different than what the state offers. There’s no guarantee,” Doughty said. “Most people will figure out if they’re comfortable or not with that.”

City Manager Bob Nisbet said, as with the local-only policy, the revised permits would continue to be popular among a small subgroup of beachgoers: those who frequent the beach multiple times a week, especially during nonpeak times.

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