California campsite reservation bill heads to governor’s desk

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SAN DIEGO (KSWB) — A bill that would make it easier for campers to reserve a campsite in California state parks is headed to the governor’s desk to be signed into law after it passed through the legislature with unanimous support.

AB 618, introduced by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda), proposed amendments to state policies regarding campsite reservation that aim to free up more spaces by deterring late cancellations and no-shows with added penalties.

The bill also directs the California State Parks department to implement a lottery system for a handful of the most coveted campsites, as well as provide a discount to park visitors under a certain income threshold through the “Golden Bear” pass.

“California’s public parks and beaches are treasures that should be enjoyed by all Californians and demand for them has increased greatly,” Bauer-Kahan said in a statement to FOX5SanDiego.com. “As a camper myself, I have seen firsthand how our current outdated reservation system has led to many campsites being left empty. By promoting responsible reservation practices, California can increase access to these vital resources.”

California has the most state park land in the country with nearly 280 individual parks, including 15,000 campsites and other lodging options. As many as seven million campers per year stay at one of these sites, according to the California State Parks Department.

Despite the expansive network of parks, more than half of campers across the country have expressed difficulty finding a campsite to book, according to a survey conducted by the camping website The Dyrt.

Amid high demand, campers either have to make their reservation months in advance or make the limited 8 a.m. window opening on the Reserve California website in order to snag a spot.

Current regulations for camping booking worsen this inaccessibility, given no existing penalties for reserving a spot that goes unused — whether because of a last-minute cancellation or a no-show. AB 618 would change that.

Under the bill, a cancellation made at least seven days before a reservation will be incentivized with a credit that can be used for another reservation within five years. Meanwhile, those who do not show up after the first day of the reservation will forfeit the remainder of the booking.

Those who book lodging in a park will receive at least two reminder emails prior to the booking start date to remind the reservation holder of the upcoming stay, as well as cancellation and refund or credit options.

AB 618 would also free up spots at campsites by capping the number of days that people can stay at the same campsite per year at 30, as well as limit the length of reservations during peak season to seven consecutive nights.

These provisions would apply to all state parks, including the 150 parks that do not use the Reserve California booking system.

The new lottery system, however, would only apply to as many as five of the most popular campsites in the state before 2025. According to the bill, the State Parks department will determine the campsites based on booking interest six months ahead of a reservation date.

“While it is great many of State Parks’ camping and lodging sites are extremely popular, this popularity limits access to overnight stays at many of California’s most beautiful locations,” the California State Parks Foundation wrote. “(This bill) proposes changes to the reservation system that incentivize early cancellations, which in turn should make more campsites available to everyone.”

In addition to these proposed changes for reservations, AB 618 would implement a 25% discount on campsite bookings for low-income individuals that hold an annual pass to state parks called the “Golden Bear” pass.

CalWORKs and supplemental security income recipients are eligible to get this pass, as well as households that have an income that fall below a certain income level.

AB 618 passed through a concurrence vote on Wednesday — just one day before the end of the legislative session. Gov. Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 14 to either sign or veto the law.

If the bill is signed, the changes to the reservation system will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

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