Cheaper places to stay may be coming to California’s beaches

For Ernestina Lau, beach days don’t come often.

The 32-year-old mother of three is from Brawley, a desert town two hours east of San Diego where the summertime highs top 110 degrees.

She works at McDonalds. Her husband mans the phones at the local Toyota dealership. And she says her family is lucky to get to the beach two times a year.

“We’re thinking what to eat, the gas, where to stay. If it’s just one night, I probably would not come out unless I had at least 250 dollars,” she said, adding they would come more often if they could find less expensive places to stay.

Lau isn’t alone. A  Coastal Conservancy study recently found that 70 percent of Californians would like to visit the coast more often—and that financial concerns are the main reason why people choose not to stay overnight.

A group of kids from the desert enjoy a weekend of camping and water sports at Silver Strand State Beach through an event organized by Outdoor Outreach and the Boys and Girls Club of Imperial Valley. AB-250 would increase support for youth-serving organizations like these that provide educational and recreational opportunities on the coast. (Photo: David Fuchs)

New legislation is looking to change that. In January, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego proposed AB-250 — a bill to create lower-cost accommodations along the coast. It passed in the assembly with bipartisan support earlier this year and heads to the senate on Friday.

The bill would require the state to do assessments every five years of all land near the coast that is not privately owned —and identify new locations for campsites, cabins, hostels and motels.

It would also authorize the state to develop those lands in cooperation with local organizations.

Some of the money would come from revenue the state already collects on coastal development projects, known as “in lieu” fees. Another $100 million could come from a bond measure currently being drafted in the senate.

The bill comes in response to a UCLA report that looked at the economics of coastal access in California.

Researchers surveyed voters across the state and found that 75 percent of Californians think the lack of affordable, overnight coastal accommodations is a problem.

But not all cities are on board with AB-250.

The City Council of Huntington Beach came out against the bill earlier this spring.

Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Mike Posey said the bill’s requirements were too vague and that he doubted the proposed legislation would actually lead to new places to stay.

“If there is no return on an investment for a developer to build it or if they have to pay in-lieu fees that are so high that it doesn’t pencil out, what you end up with is no new development—at the expense of trying to get low-cost development—and you’ll end up with neither,” he said.

Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher said the bill is not intended to hinder development but rather to ensure access to the coast for all Californians.

“The coast does and should belong to all of us,” she said, referring to The California Coastal Act of 1976. “So being able to enjoy it — and that means being able to have access to our beaches, being able to spend the night along our beaches — is something that I think every Californian should enjoy.”