Middle Class California Beach Vacations Limited As Hotel Costs Rise



As the weather warms, California families are planning summer beach visits. But overnight trips to the state’s famous coastline are becoming increasingly difficult for middle-class residents to enjoy, as the price of admission skyrockets.

Thousands of older, relatively inexpensive motel rooms along the coast have been closed in recent years, replaced by luxury hotels that are out of reach for many.

An average summer hotel room less than a mile from the coast now costs $ 302 a night in San Mateo County, $ 245 in Santa Cruz County and $ 274 in Monterey County, according to one. new survey from California Coastal Conservancy. In Southern California, the prices are similar: $ 254 a night in Los Angeles County, $ 287 in Orange County, and $ 343 in Santa Barbara County.

A new wave of studies in recent months has sparked efforts from coastal leaders in California – and now some lawmakers in Sacramento – to do something about it.

“The coast belongs to all Californians,” said Sam Schuchat, managing director of Coastal Conservancy, an Oakland-based government agency that works to restore the coast and improve public access. “And all Californians should be able to access and enjoy it. Why would only relatively wealthy people be able to stay overnight? “

Conservation commissioned a telephone survey in March of 1,200 California residents and found large disparities in who can stay overnight when visiting the beach.

The survey found that while 67% of California residents with household income over $ 200,000 per year stay overnight when visiting the coast, only 41% of those with household income between $ 50,000 and $ 75,000 does. And only 25 percent of people with incomes below $ 25,000 stay overnight.

There are also racial and ethnic differences.

While 51% of white California residents say they stay overnight when visiting the beach, 74% of Latinos, 70% of Asians, and 64% of African Americans say otherwise, with price being the main reason.

The reasons for the rise in hotel rates: Land is expensive. The economy is good. Californians compete with tourists from around the world for a limited number of affordable rooms. And it is illegal under state law for the government to set hotel rates.

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“It’s how the market works,” Schuchat said. “Coastal real estate is incredibly expensive. Let’s say you run a cheap motel along the coast and get older and want to retire. So you are going to sell it. Who will buy it? Someone who wants to build something more expensive. Cities earn more in taxes with a Ritz-Carlton than a Motel 6. ”

On a recent afternoon in Santa Cruz, beach visitors said they would like to spend the night longer, but costs are a barrier.

“I don’t think I’ve spent the night here before,” said Rachel Devaul of San Jose. “Most of my friends are young parents with children. You don’t have a lot of extra money.

Concord resident Michael Slaker agreed.

“It’s only about an hour’s drive from Concord,” he said. “It is not profitable for us to pay these prices. If you go further, like at Disneyland, then you have to bite the bullet and pay. “

Since 1989, 35,967 hotel rooms have been lost along the California coast, and 70% are economy rooms, according to a study last year by the California Coastal Commission, a San Francisco state agency that regulates coastal development.

SJM-CTE-0506-91Schuchat says he’s even considering a program to work with UC campuses along the coast to rent dorms to tourists in the summer.

It’s all about supply and demand, depending on the state’s hospitality industry.

“It’s a difficult problem,” said Lynn Mohrfeld, president and CEO of the California Hotel and Lodging Association in Sacramento. “This is the highest and best use for coastal real estate. You can apply the same problem to housing, retail, or other types of businesses. If someone buys a two bedroom house on the coast, they are not going to tear it down and build a one bedroom house or a studio. I don’t think it’s unique to the hospitality industry.

Mohrfeld said one solution is for the state to build more campsites, more cabins, and fund more hostel partnerships on coastal lands already owned by the state. The state’s parks department, for example, owns about a third of the coastline, but it has built few new campgrounds or cabins in the past decade.

A new push is underway in Sacramento to make coastal accommodation more affordable.

Lawmakers in Democratic states recently added $ 100 million to AB 18, a $ 3.1 billion bond offered to voters in the June 2018 poll to fund parks and water projects. And MP Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, D-San Diego, introduced a bill requiring the Coastal Conservancy to create a low-cost accommodation program.

Mohrfeld said people who can’t afford beachfront hotel rooms can book cheaper rooms inland. As a student, he said, he would go to San Diego to surf, but stay with friends in inexpensive motels in Santee, a town about 10 miles from the coast.

Jack Ainsworth, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, said he plans to increase fees for luxury hotel developers along the coast to help fund new campsites, cabins and inns.

The commission has collected $ 24 million of such fees over the past 40 years and allocated them to cities, state agencies and nonprofit groups, but $ 13 million has yet to be spent. . Many projects have turned out to be more expensive than expected, due to the cost of land or local opposition, which can cause delays and increase costs.

Mohrfeld said the increase in fees would simply encourage hotel owners to increase prices, but Ainsworth said owners of expensive hotels can afford it.

“These hotels are incredibly profitable, primarily because of their location in one of the strongest coastal hotel markets in the country,” said Ainsworth.

Not only does the California Coastal Act of 1976 require low-cost housing to be protected, Ainsworth noted, it’s important that children be inspired by the coast.

“There is something very special about waking up on the coast,” Ainsworth said. “The sights, the smells, the sounds. It burns in your heart and soul, and this is how we attract people to take an interest in the coast and in protecting our natural resources.


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