The California Coastal Commission voted to let the state Department of Parks and Recreation install automated parking machines at the beaches and charge a $20 flat holiday rate up from $15.
The move comes as the Department seeks funding to offset a 37 percent drop in general fund cash in the last five years. Parks officials have faced opposition to similar efforts at some Northern California beaches where parking was traditionally free.
Out of California's 1,100 miles of beach, a third is controlled by the state Department of Parks and Recreation.
"People should expect to see us take a statewide look at where we do and don't charge fees, and expect that analysis to produce recommendations of where we should and should not charge fees and what those fees should be," said Mat Fuzie, deputy director of park operations.
Park officials will monitor the new program to determine how it is affecting beachgoers at Orange County's Crystal Cove State Park, Doheny State Beach and San Clemente State Beach. The state could use this data to make changes to parking fees at other beaches, Fuzie said.
Some commissioners voiced concern that a $20 holiday rate might price poorer Californians out of a trip to the beach. But they largely welcomed the plan which was approved for five years as a way to learn more about how Orange County residents use their beaches and ensure that state parks can be properly maintained.
"The reality is there is no such thing as free parking. The closer it gets to free the more it is subsidized by some other source seen or unseen," Commissioner Steve Kinsey said.
In Sonoma County, officials are reviewing a hotly contested plan to start charging for parking at some beaches that don't currently have any fees.
At the Orange County beaches, state officials installed parking machines and began revamping the fee structure last year to charge hourly and daily rates, but then learned they needed a permit from the Coastal Commission, said Orange Coast District Superintendent Brian Ketterer.
Since doing so, officials have seen a sizable increase in visits to the beaches, he said.
This year, officials plan to charge the $20 holiday rate only on July 4 at Crystal Cove and two beaches in Huntington Beach, Ketterer said.