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National Park Service Proposes Parking Fees at Popular Bay Area Beaches

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Sunday is the final day for the public to weigh in on a plan to begin charging fees at some national park sites in the Bay Area.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is part of the National Parks system, built for the benefit of the people but now it looks as if the people who actually visit parks will be required to contribute to their upkeep.

Saturday was National Public Lands Day, a day when all national parks are free to visit. In San Francisco, Baker Beach, with its spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, is always free but that may not be true for much longer if you choose to drive there. The GGNRA wants to charge $3 per hour up to $10 per day for parking. That wasn't going over so well with those who are used to it being free.

"Some people aren't able to afford to even come out and just think if parking would put another criterion there where they won't be able to come and enjoy it," said Priscilla Haynes, who was visiting Baker Beach from her home in San Jose.

"I don't think it's going to affect the tourists so much," said Gemma Southerington from Vallejo. "I don't think this would be a main destination to come to so I think it would hurt locals here more than anything."

The fees would be charged for parking at Baker Beach, China Beach, Stinson Beach, Rodeo Beach, Lands End, Sutro Heights, Navy Memorial and Fort Cronkhite. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area was the second most visited national park in America in 2020 and the park district says it needs the money for basic necessities like trash collection and janitorial services.

"We're looking at these fees as a last resort to allow us to recover some of the costs that dramatically increased as a result of extreme visitation in some areas of the park," said National Parks Service spokesperson, Juan Espinoza.

"I don't believe them when they say that," said Donel Haines, who spends a lot of time at Baker Beach. "I think a lot of money is squandered." He said much of the beach cleanup is done by volunteers and he thinks the government simply isn't efficient in its spending.

"The cost of doing things has gotten way out of hand," he said. "It's way out of proportion to people's basic activities."

His opinions weren't unique. Many of the people we spoke to wondered why the parks' budget doesn't seem to be able to handle basic expenses.

"I'm not really sure where the money goes," said Shontre Jackson from Vallejo. "I mean, I hope they have good intentions with it but to know what they're actually doing is 'he says, she says.'"

"There's pros and cons, right?" said John Strishak from Berkeley. "On the one hand, you want to make sure the park stays clean. On the other hand, you want to make sure everyone can use it. So where do you draw that line?"

But Susan Mah, visiting from Burlingame, thinks it's important to pay to keep things nice.

"Change is hard when people are not used to having to pay," she said, "But, at the end of the day, it's worth it. The small price -- $5, $10 -— to me it would be worth it."

The public comment period ends Sunday and, if approved, would be phased in lot-by-lot over several years, beginning mid-to-late 2022. To learn more or submit a comment about the parking fee plan, visit this GGNRA page.

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