It’s increasingly hard to take a beach vacation on a budget in California. Hotel prices continue to rise along with demand, while options for lower-cost accommodations are scarce along much of the coast.
But a bill that aims to make it easier for low- and middle-income Californians to vacation at the beach is working its way through the state legislature. The bill, AB250, sponsored by Assemblywoman Lorena González Fletcher (D-San Diego), would require the state Coastal Conservancy to develop a plan for increasing the availability of inexpensive cabins, hostels and campgrounds along the coast.
That could include building cabins on public land and purchasing existing lodgings that the Conservancy could turn over to public agencies or nonprofits to operate at low rates.
“It is really a way to put a trip to the beach within reach of more Californians,” said bill supporter Marce Gutiérrez-Graudiņš, executive director of the Latino coastal advocacy group Azul.
The 1976 Coastal Act requires the state to maximize access to the beach for all Californians, including by protecting and encouraging lower-cost overnight accommodations. But inexpensive lodging has diminished along the coast, often replaced by luxury hotels and housing developments.
Since 1989, nearly 25,000 economy rate hotel rooms have been lost along the coast, more than twice as many as all other, more expensive rooms combined, according to a 2016 study by the California Coastal Commission, which is charged with implementing the Coastal Act.
When awarding coastal development permits, the Commission often collects in-lieu fees designed to support projects for lower-income visitors. But it has struggled to use those fees, in some cases because it vastly underestimated the amount needed to build or acquire cabins and campgrounds.
"I would say the number one reason funds haven’t been spent is because they haven’t been high enough,” said Madeline Cavalieri, a Coastal Commission staff member who has studied the issue.
Under González Fletcher’s bill, any existing in lieu funds that haven’t been used by Jan. 1, 2018 could be used to meet the goals of the proposed, lower cost lodging program.
A recent UCLA study found high demand for visiting the coast among all Californians. But three out of four people surveyed for the study said the lack of affordable lodging was a barrier.
"The cost of staying overnight at the coast is really out of reach for most Californians, especially those who live inland," said study author Jon Christensen. He called AB250 “a serious attempt to begin to address that challenge.”
The state Assembly passed the bill on May 31. It’s now working its way through the Senate.