Whether due to the high cost of running a hotel or inn on the coast, the arduous development process or some other factor, affordable overnight accommodations on the San Mateo County coast are somewhat scarce. 

A California Coastal Conservancy study found only 210 rooms in the county had a daily rate that was 75 percent or less of the statewide average for overnight room rates. Perhaps as a consequence, the state agency’s research indicates low- and middle-income households, people of color, and younger people are less likely to stay along the coast overnight. 

Jon Christensen, an assistant professor at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, and Philip King, an associate economics professor with San Francisco State University, found the average total value of a day trip to the beach was about $36. For an overnight trip, visitors stay an average of four days, and it costs about $605. 

“The high-level conclusion is that today the cost of visiting the beach for a day trip, and even more so for an overnight stay, is getting out of reach for ... anyone who makes less than the median household income,” Christensen said. “That complicates the picture of what access means and how to continue to provide access.” 

The high costs aren’t limited to San Mateo County. The conservancy’s study found only 21 percent of commercial accommodations qualify as a “lower cost coastal accommodation” across the state. This doesn’t include private homes or rooms through short-term rental companies such as Airbnb. 

The state Coastal Conservancy’s “Explore the Coast Overnight” program is an effort to align with the Coastal Act’s requirement that maximum access should be provided for everyone. AB250, passed in late 2017, mandated the Coastal Conservancy assess the status of lower cost coastal accommodations. The following year, Proposition 68 designated $30 million to fund these types of affordable lodging projects. 

“So, it’s been a real alignment of identifying the problem, understanding it and working to find solutions to it in pretty quick succession,” said Amy Hutzel, deputy executive officer with the state Coastal Conservancy, in an email. “The pace at which this all happened just goes to show how much Californians love their coast and how we see access to it as a fundamental right.” 

Ideas for addressing the problem include distributing flexible fees, discounts, camping gear, vouchers and coupons to targeted groups and providing financial incentives for developers. 

Although the projects the conservancy is considering with its first Explore the Coast Overnight grants lie outside San Mateo County, Hutzel said there are potential projects that have been discussed with land owners, including expanding the Point Montara Lighthouse hostel. However, she said no one has submitted an application or pre-application for a local project. 

“Ensuring that overnight accommodations are available to low- to middle-income families is a challenge,” Hutzel wrote. “In the assessment and grant application, we have emphasized that projects should include meaningful outreach and engagement strategies to target these communities ... to ensure that our funding is doing what it was intended to accomplish.”

In Half Moon Bay specifically, Hutzel said they have worked with the city on its Local Coastal Program update to ensure the possibility of overnight facilities remains in the Wavecrest area. 

Christensen said the state’s efforts are part of a larger push to increase access to all public lands. 

“It’s not just about those last (physical) barriers to getting to the beach,” Christensen said. “It’s a much broader challenge of providing affordable overnight accommodations, providing affordable transportation options. In some sense, providing for affordable parking and the like.” 

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