California beaches

What is Happening With State Parking Passes During Park Closures?

NBC 7 Responds found thousands of Californians have questions about how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the popular parking pass

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Beaches are reopening and so are several state parks, but their parking lots are staying closed. That means thousands of San Diegans cannot use their state Explorer Annual Pass.

Last year, around 6,800 San Diegans purchased the nearly $200 pass which lets you park for free at many beaches and state parks.

"I use it all over San Diego's beaches and I pretty much use it every day," said surfer Walt Pazanowski. "Maybe it's a selfish thing to be thinking about right now, but all of this adds up for everybody who is just trying to make ends meet."

With daily parking rates ranging from $15 to $30, the pass is a great way to save money if you frequently visit state parks and beaches. People who have the pass say it encourages them to get out and see nature more often.

"It's kind of like a gym membership," said Annette Aagard, a college teacher. "If I'm invested in it, then I know I'll go more often."

Both Aagard and Pazanowski say they think the state did the right thing to try and help prevent the spread of the coronavirus but now hopes the state does something to help pass holders.

"I think it was probably good to close them to discourage too much gathering, " Aagard said. "It was the state that chose to close it and they can choose to extend it."

Pazanowski said it can be a lot of money to spend on something you can't even use right now.

"There are some kids, they're in their 20s just trying to make ends meet," Pazanowski said. "To drop $200 on a parking pass is quite a bit."

California's Department of Parks and Recreation has acknowledged the issue but has not made a decision. In a statement to NBC 7 a spokesperson said:

"At this time, the department has not made a decision on how it will handle annual passes. Please know that these concerns are being heard and we are working to come up with a resolution. The decision on how to handle our annual passes will be made by State Parks."

The state's parks department has already reopened Cardiff, Carlsbad, San Elijo Silver Strand, South Carlsbad, and Torrey Pines State Beaches. However, the parking lots at those beaches and all 280 state parks remain closed.

Aagard and Pazanowski can't wait for the parking lots to reopen.

"(I'd go) that day probably," Pazanowski said. Aagard says she would go within a few hours.

California's parks department says it is working closely with Governor Newsom's office, the state's Office of Emergency Services, and local health officials to determine when the parks will reopen to vehicles.

The department is posting all updates on its website here.

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