SUMMARY OF WEST MARIN VILLAGES TOURISM CONCERNS
Background for Forum #4 ‘Community Life and Tourism’ featuring
State Senator Mike McGuire
First Review Draft, November 15, 2016; Working Draft 1, December 4, 2016; Revised December 6, 2016; Revised January 11, 2017; Revised January 15, 2017.
West Marin is a special and beautiful area, one that has attracted visitors for many years. Residents recognize that visitors are part of the community life here, are an important part of the local economy, and that tourism makes more goods and services available than the local population alone could support. Balancing tourism and local services however, is an interest shared by residents and businesses. How to balance services and the degree that villages are service centers vs. visitor destinations needs to be addressed. High levels of visitors have generated impacts to the communities and the surrounding environment that are becoming difficult to manage. Community members frequently experience how excessive visitation can easily overwhelm local capacity, disrupt local quality of life, and displace residents.
The National Park Service estimates that over the past 5-7 years an average of 2.5 million visitors per year have visited the Point Reyes National Seashore. This equals 200,000 visitors per month, peaking on the weekends and holidays. A visitor to resident ratio comparison helps to put this degree of visitation in perspective:
San Francisco, with 837,442 residents has about 24.6 million visitors per year, a ratio of 29 visitors/resident.
Point Reyes Station and Inverness Park with 1,756 (2010 census by zip code) residents and 2.5 million visitors per year has a ratio of 1,424 visitors/resident.
If San Francisco had a visitor ratio equal to Point Reyes, it would have 1,200,000,000 visitors per year and experience impacts to transportation, housing, waste, etc. such as is happening in West Marin.
The coastal communities do not accept prioritizing visitor access over and above the impacts of such visitation on coastal resources including coastal communities. We believe that the California Coastal Commission (CCC) by institutionalizing these impacts has exceeded the intent of the Coastal Act. The Coastal Act expressly recognizes that public access shall be provided: Section 30210 of the Coastal Act. “consistent with public safety needs and the need to protect public rights, rights of private property owners, and natural resources areas from overuse.”
The historic coast villages in West Marin are man-made, artificial resources that need protection. Section 30001.5 Legislative findings and declarations; goals: “The Legislature further finds and declares that the basic goals of the state for the coastal zone are to: (a) Protect, maintain, and where feasible, enhance and restore the overall quality of the coastal zone environment and its natural and artificial resources.”
We believe that the CCC is usurping local authority in addressing local issues.
Article 1 Local Coastal Program Section 30500 Preparation: (a)” The commission's review of a land use plan shall be limited to its administrative determination that the land use plan submitted by the local government does, or does not, conform with the requirements of Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 30200). In making this review, the commission is not authorized by any provision of this division to diminish or abridge the authority of a local government to adopt and establish, by ordinance, the precise content of its land use plan.“
We also believe that the CCC has taken actions that have not been subject to required community participation. “(c) The precise content of each local coastal program shall be determined by the local government, consistent with Section 30501, in full consultation with the commission and with full public participation.” We are aware that there are other LCP impacts that have had insufficient or no public participation. The Point Reyes Station adopted Community Plan has five principal goals that are the foundations of the village plan. The LCP has in effect eroded or erased four of these goals, completely damaging the Community Plan without any public process to address these actions and their impacts to Point Reyes Station.
The impacted Community Plan goals are:
1. Preserve the viability of Point Reyes Station as a small, rural, working town.
2. Carefully manage the impacts of tourism on the visual character of the historic downtown district.
3. Minimize the impacts of tourism on the everyday activities of the local population.
4. Create additional affordable housing for people employed locally.
The coastal communities seek to preserve the historical and cultural character of their towns and do not support Coastal Commission’s efforts via the Local Coastal Plan Amendment process to impose “visitor-serving only” business zones in the small commercial centers. Coastal residents need their small local businesses and public gathering spaces to survive and thrive and to provide services to their communities – visitors enjoy these services and spaces, as well!
Marin County also appears interested in enabling tourism in West Marin. A recent County sponsored consultant’s study of tourism included forecasting tourism visitation trends over the next 50 years, without independently measuring actual visitation, and in spite of acknowledging that the existing visitation data is limited, anecdotal, and unscientific. The consultant was also directed to assess the economic benefits to the County, without in turn assessing the impacts to the communities and the costs incurred/required to mitigate tourism’s impacts.
TOURISM IMPACT MANAGEMENT ISSUES & IMPROVEMENT SUGGESTIONS
The following specific impacts of burgeoning visitor access to coastal West Marin are:
1. Illegal and dangerous parking: When local communities are “at capacity”, coastal visitors ignore well-posted “no parking” signs, creating dangerous public safety conditions, limiting emergency vehicle response and generating ill-will in the communities they visit. The impact locally cannot be over-stated: in many West Marin communities, the residents are not able to access their local businesses or other services (post offices, libraries, community centers, etc.) In Bolinas, visitor vehicles often exceed the limited parking capacity of the core area, blocking residents from services in the core.
When high visitation is anticipated, the Bolinas Fire Dept. has placed a fire-fighting vehicle in the core area in order to not be blocked by congestion in the event of an emergency. The Bolinas Public Utilities District (BPUD) prepared a plan to improve parking in the community, only to have the CCC reject their proposal. Along Highway
One, east shore of Tomales Bay in the vicinity of Marshall, on weekends and summers visitors to seaside businesses arrive with or without reservations and exceed available on site parking. Cars are then dangerously parked along the highway in all directions.
Suggestion: The local communities may benefit from more local authority and funding to manage parking, congestion, and community safety. As with the example at implemented at Muir Woods, restricting parking along the roadway in on Tomales Bay’s east shore may be the only feasible solution.
2. Overuse of limited wastewater disposal services: Most West Marin properties are served by septic systems that have limited capacity (even if built for commercial purposes) which regularly are over-used by visitors, creating a public health risk and imposing significant costs on the property owners. Even worse, many areas of West Marin are undeveloped or are county/state/national parks with bathroom facilities in centralized locations – human waste and associated waste products are accumulating on beaches, next to trails, in drainage ditches adjacent to open spaces, in vehicle pullout areas, etc.
3. Garbage and trash: The number of visitors has exceeded local community ability to clean up and dispose of garbage littered on the beaches and in other public areas. Local communities are struggling to find funds/personnel to clean up after visitors and properly dispose of garbage and/or recycling. After one day of weekend visitation day in Point Reyes Station trash cans throughout the town can be overflowing, causing trash to be left on the public sidewalks. The town has no publicly funded mechanism to deal with trash. Olema also cites trash as an issue.
Suggestions: The villages may benefit from more authority and funding to address trash and other local community issues. It would be helpful to understand the options and implications for appropriate self-governance, such as Community Service Districts, etc.
4. Water: Most West Marin communities have very limited water supplies. The impact of increased visitation is straining those supplies and imposing increased operating costs on local water districts.
Suggestions: Water demand and supply in each village should be assessed both for existing and future residents as well as anticipated tourism.
5. Traffic: West Marin roads are uniformly narrow and winding with minimal or no shoulders. Visiting drivers and tourists used to freeways, traffic lights and other traffic control devices are intimidated and tend to drive slowly or too fast. The increasing numbers of solo bicyclists as well as bicycle organizations on group rides adds to the congestion. Daily during the summer months and on sunny weekends throughout the year, traffic between our villages as well as within them is no longer an inconvenience but can be a dangerous situation.
Olema is concerned about lack of enforcement of speeding along Highway One as well as cyclists who block the roads by riding adjacent to each other and not single file. Inverness, Inverness Park, and Point Reyes Station residents are concerned about occasional traffic congestion delays and its public safety impacts along Sir Francis Drake and Levee Road. On the worst days a 1.5 mile 5 minute trip from Inverness Park to Point Reyes Station has taken residents and visitors over an hour, blocking access for residents and emergency responders. The intersection of Levee Road with Highway One is a major bottleneck, with traffic backing up at the stop sign on levee Road and extending into Inverness Park.
Suggestions: Some solution, whether it is a sheriff available to move traffic, a roundabout, or another means to maintain traffic flow during high visitation periods. Solving traffic issues will involve County and Caltrans jurisdictions. Adding bicycle paths along our narrow coastal roads should reduce automobile conflicts and increase safety.
6. Public Restrooms: Point Reyes Station has one public facility that is so heavily used the County had to add portable bathrooms. During weekends of heavy use, the septic system is overloaded and the solid waste tanks require pumping daily. While most restaurants have bathrooms for customer use, other take-out food facilities in Point Reyes, Olema, and Inverness Park do not provide public toilets. Olema lacks proper public restrooms and has provided portable toilets to help address the need.
Suggestion: Sources of funding to develop and maintain facilities need to be identified, perhaps as part of Community Service Districts, Public Utility Districts, etc.
7. Directional Signage and Resources Mapping: Better information to direct visitors to coastal resource destinations and visitor services (bathrooms, picnic grounds) such as the Point Reyes National Seashore visitor center at Bear Valley, the visitor facility at Drakes Bay, and the Tomales Bay State Park with its bathrooms, picnic grounds, and swimming access, could improve facility access for visitors and benefit the villages.
Suggestions: Coordinating with online/mobile mapping sites, sites as Google maps could result in more visitor awareness of service/resource locations in all the parks. This, plus directional signs, could disperse visitors and reduce the pressure on the limited resources and infrastructure in the villages. This is good opportunity for coordination between the Villages and the Parks.
8. Housing: In West Marin there is both a limited supply of housing (especially affordable housing) compounded by the reality that there is very limited developable residential land. Visitor oriented vacation rentals remove potential rental housing from the community and vacation homes also leave a community socially and culturally depleted. In Marshall, very few of the bay front homes are resident occupied. The land use element in Marin’s Local Coastal Program, requested by the CCC that prioritizes commercial development in existing residential/commercial mixed use zones further erodes the potential to increase the housing supply.
Suggestions: Funding sources should be sought to help provide housing for local residents and policies need to explored and adopted to regulate vacation and short-term rentals. The CCC policy prioritizing commercial facilities in mixed-use housing/commercial zones should be deleted.