Parking Fees Near Caesaria Beach Raise an Uproar

Residents of surrounding communities, environments organize protests against proposed parking fee.

Zafrir Rinat
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The Caesaria shoreline.
The Caesaria shoreline.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Zafrir Rinat

The Hof Hacarmel Regional Council’s decision to institute paid parking at the entrance to Caesarea’s Aqueduct Beach is arousing fierce opposition from surrounding communities. Local residents have begun to organize protest actions against the move, which they say violates their right to free access to the sea. The Binyamina and Menashe local councils have also joined in demanding that the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council not charge for beach access.

Up to now, vehicles that used the adjacent parking lots have enjoyed free access to the Aqueduct Beach in Caesarea. The Hof Hacarmel Regional Council recently erected a sign announcing its intention to charge a 30-shekel entry fee per vehicle to one of the parking lots. Another, smaller lot will remain free of charge. The beach is mainly used by residents of Binyamina, Pardes Hannah-Karkur and nearby rural communities.

In response, local residents launched a public battle. Last week they held a protest against the decision and started a Facebook group calling for the decision to be revoked.

“I rode my bike to this beach as a boy and as a father I park my car right next to it and come here with my kids, and it’s always been free,” says Shmulik Moshel from Karkur, who has joined in the protest. “I’ve always felt that the beach and the sea are part of nature, and access to them should be free.”

The Binyamina-Givat Ada local council and the Menashe Regional Council contacted the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council and asked that it rescind its decision about charging for parking. They noted that the beach is not accessible to pedestrians or public transportation, and that a private car is required for access. Therefore, charging a fee for most of the parking area amounts to charging for entry to the beach itself, which violates very explicit legislation.

“The seashore belongs to the entire public and we will not consent to the parking fee,” Ilan Sadeh, head of the Menashe Regional Council, said on Tuesday. “We intend to fight by every legal means for the public’s right to use the beach.”

The Hof Hacarmel Regional Council responded: “The council includes the largest amount of coastal territory in the country, which includes five formally designated beaches, and presently only one of these [Nahsholim Beach] charges an entry fee. In the past decade, responsibility for guarding and taking care of the beaches passed to the local authorities. The cost of maintaining a designated beach is NIS 1.5 million and this cost currently has to be borne by 7,400 households in Hof Hacarmel.

“The state is not providing any budget and is shirking all responsibility for the matter. The law allows a council to set up paid parking next to a designated beach, and that is what is being done here. The paid parking is on private land owned by the Caesarea Development Company. In addition, 30 percent of all the parking spaces near the beach have been allocated as free of charge. Entry to the beach itself was and will remain free of charge. We would also point out that at the beaches maintained by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, they charge NIS 35 per vehicle. These days, a Hof Hacarmel resident who parks his car in a lot near the beach in Tel Aviv pays NIS 80 per day.”

The public’s and environmental organizations’ battle against entry fees at beaches has been ongoing for more than a decade. Ten years ago, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva, v’Din) petitioned the High Court of Justice against fees being charged at public beaches (for entry to the beach or by means of a parking fee). The court ruled that a fee could be charged for parking, on condition that free access to the sea was also possible, through public transportation or another parking lot that was free of charge. Regarding the Caesarea beach, the IUED has already been involved in an earlier battle against introducing a paid parking lot, and filed an appeal on the matter in the Haifa District Court. In a compromise agreement, the court ruled that a paid parking lot could be operated, but only in tandem with a lot that was free of charge. No paid parking was ever introduced though, although that is about to change.

One question that remains to be clarified is whether the ratio of paid to unpaid parking spaces, which heavily favors the former, is in keeping with the spirit of past rulings on the issue.