Dune Hugger: Beach User Fees

Special to the PRESS

Beach User Fees or as some would rather call it, paid parking is coming to Gulf Boulevard next year by the way things look with the City of South Padre Island and the Texas General Land Office. So what does that mean? It means that, if all goes well for the City, visitors and residents will have to start paying to use the public beach parking spots on Padre Boulevard in order to access the city beaches. Up to $13 a day with an option to purchase a $50 “Annual Pass” would be the pricing for parking there. This is legal under the Texas Natural Resources Code 61 or the Open Beaches Act. That is not an issue. The spin on this by its supporters are that it will help make Gulf Boulevard safer for both residents and visitors by lowering the traffic on the road and add revenue to our very important Beach Maintenance Fund to help with adding parking options such as parking lots, cleaning the beach and add amenities for the beach users to utilize, such as bathrooms.

I have been involved in this issue as the Surfrider Foundation South Texas Representative for 10 years and this plan specifically for the past four years. The way it is being sold is that it will cost the City of South Padre Island hardly anything as it will all be handled by a mobile application available to smart phones and the revenue will go into the aforementioned benefits to the beach. However, there are some serious issues that still remain that make me and others skeptical about the success of this program.

The first issue is the system of payment itself. This would be done by a smartphone app that would allow the visitor to pay for their time in that spot effortlessly and those that do not own a phone capable of supporting that app can go to City Hall and purchase their pass manually. So let’s say that you have to go purchase the pass through City Hall. That means you actually have to go off of Gulf Boulevard and not even know if there would be a spot available when you went back.

The second issue is enforcement. A vehicle will only show up on the system if someone has actually bought their time in a spot either through the app or physically at an outlet. Vehicles that have not bought their time will be invisible. The way the City has promoted the enforcement of this is by one individual on an ATV with an iPad scanning license plates for those that have tried to game the system. The other issue with enforcement is with the time period. A person could actually occupy the spot for up to 24 hours. Is this same individual supposed to chalk tires and then report back to the next shift whose responsibility it would be to ticket and tow the offending vehicle? Without this important aspect of enforcement it is very likely that condo complexes will take over these public parking spots to alleviate their problem of not planning enough parking for their own renters. Is there anyone out there that actually believes one person can actually handle this during the months of March, June, July and August? It is completely impossible! It is apparent that there will have to be more than just one individual involved in this process like the police. The problem with this is not only added expenses to the City’s General Fund but the fact that our police don’t even know how the restricted parking on the side feeder streets work. I actually was ticketed for parking in an authorized area a few weeks ago and that is five years after the restrictions have been in effect!

Finally, safety. That is, after all, what this is for, right? The City must provide free parking in order to offset the paid parking according to the OBA and the GLO. A few spots on Gulf Boulevard such as the cul-de-sacs at Wanna Wanna, Boomerang Billy’s and Harbor will be provided but the majority are across Padre Boulevard (State Highway 100) and would require the visitor to either try and wait for only one Wave Bus that services the entire route or cross their family across the very busy main thoroughfare for SPI! So much for safety!

In addition, the City already has recognized that this Beach User Fee program will not create any real revenue, if any, by seeking a bond proposal to finish the Gulf Boulevard improvements that must be done. This program will also not, in my opinion, alleviate traffic on Gulf or increase safety for our visitors while actually costing the City more than the program will be bringing in and not help fund amenities for our tourists.

The proposed ordinance has been submitted to the Texas Register and public comments are open until August 31. If you would like to submit your comments, please submit them to Walter Talley at the General Land Office at walter.talley@glo.texas.gov.

 

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