[OPINION] “Tone Deaf Missteps” Lead To Westport’s 3rd Rail

Dr. Jay Walshon is a 38-year resident of Westport. He spends plenty of time at Compo Beach — and, recently, has watched hours of coverage of debates over parking fees. He writes:

Last month, Westport’s Parks & Recreation Commission reduced the non-resident beach emblem price from $775 to $545.

Member Chris O’Keeffe said, “It’s really important we share the history of this.”  I agree.

In the summer of 2017, residents complained about deplorable Compo Beach neglect — uncleanliness, disrepair, litter — plus overcrowding, parking, disorderly conduct and disregard of rules. They ascribed these problems to the increasing number of non-residents at Compo.


Lines of cars waiting to enter Compo. Sure, this was taken the day of the fireworks — but a few years ago, lines like this could be seen on weekends too.

In addition to logistical and operational recommendations, these residents wanted daily and non-resident emblem fees increased, the number issued decreased, visitor revenue captured, and the number of non-paying “drop-offs” addressed.

The Parks & Rec Commission designated a daily parking area, and increased staff, trash collections and weekend and holiday restroom cleaning.

They also considered “relocating the entry booth, daily pass sales, signage, events, traffic, rules and regulations, and police presence and enforcement.”

Lowering the number of beachgoers by decreasing non-resident emblems and daily passes, and increasing fees to offset revenue, became a primary consideration.

To avoid anecdotally based decisions, Parks & Recreation director Jen Fava was tasked to recruit college students to gather objective data. This never occurred.

Representative Town Meeting member Carla Rea asked how much of Compo Beach’s $2 million revenue was budgeted for maintenance. Ms. Fava did not have an answer.

RTMer Sal Liccione asked how many personnel were dedicated to maintaining Compo during summer. She did not have that information available.

Trash pickup was a concern several years ago.

Ms. Fava estimated that grievance rectification would cost $200,000. To recoup revenue, the Parks & Rec Commission raised resident parking emblems by $10 to $50, and Weston by $125 to $375. The number of non-resident emblems was lowered from 600 to 350; daily passes were capped at 100.

Equating it to a “seasonal Vermont ski lift ticket,” Ms. Fava increased non-resident emblems from $490 to $775.

John Suggs warned: “raising prices that could exclude non-Westporters is bad policy.”

Michael Calise declared that $775 “unreasonably punishes non-residents.” Because Compo revenue exceeded $1.5 million, he requested a justifying accounting of revenues and expenses. Ms. Fava could not provide this.

Residents said:

  • “Hopefully the increased fees and decreased non-residents will result in fewer people at the beach.”
  • “$775 is steep but the right direction, because it’s still a great deal.”
  • “This is a town beach; you need to think about the residents before you think about people from out of town.”

Among the Parks & Rec comments:

  • “Reasonable step to decrease overcrowding; right approach.”
  • “We need to focus on the property taxpayers here that are paying for the beach.”
  • “This shouldn’t offend anyone.”
  • “This is the fairest way to assess them.”
  • “Non-residents should pay their ‘fair share.'”
  •  “This is going to work out very well.”

It didn’t.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

Ms. Fava’s outrageously insensitive $775 ski-lift equivalency, and targeting non-resident utilization via parking price and quotas, reverberated into the state legislature.

House Bill 6650 — introduced recently — says:

No municipality shall: (1) prohibit nonresidents…from entering or using a…municipal beach…or a municipal facility associated with such beach, unless such prohibition applies to residents of such municipality; or (2) impose on non-residents a fee for such entrance or use, or parking associated with such entrance or use, that is greater than twice the amount of any fee charged to residents for the same purpose.

In other words: If residents pay $60, a town can’t charge non-residents more than $120. Prohibiting non-resident drop-offs would mean prohibiting residents too).

Describing $775 as “unacceptable,” the Parks & Rec Commission reduced it to $545, increased the number to 450, and raised the number of daily passes to 120. Even $545 is still far higher than any other area town.

Ms. Fava explained she was “now looking at things through a little bit of a new lens in terms of where the current climate is … because we went from $490 and skyrocketed to $775, way out of alignment with other waterfront communities … really doesn’t reflect our accessibility goals we want to have to let people come in and use our facilities.”

She defended the 2018-2022 $775 price, declaring “it was a very different climate.”

For decades, beach fees and accessibility barriers have been under the discrimination microscope. The only “climate difference” is HB6650, and the state’s perception of our exclusionary attitude and treatment of non-residents – our third rail.

Compo Beach (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

We shouldn’t wait for legislative imposition before re-addressing beach access structures. “Over-crowding” and “equitability” warrant clarification.  Metrics providing data on cost and problem intensity/frequency should replace anecdotes.

Compo’s revenue and expenses must become transparent.

The Parks & Recreation Department’s “Beach/Pool Operating Analysis 2019-2020” showed revenues of $1,820,995 (pool $15,429), and expenses of $498,720. The result: a $1,322,275 surplus.

Non-resident 2018 revenue was $519,800 (including Weston, it’s over $750,000.

RTM member Chris Tait said, “What we did wasn’t well received in the state. A lot of articles were written about us being outdated and alienating people to not go to our beaches.

“It didn’t look good, and gave fuel to the fire of people in Hartford who may not like what we do in Westport. What we did didn’t help us as a community.  Bringing this back down is a way of acknowledging that, saying we are open to people from out of town.  We are not exclusive.”

The manner in which issues were framed in 2017/18 exposed subliminal entanglements of entitlement, elitism and privilege, leading in part to HB6650.

Ms. Fava’s focus remains the false narrative that “things are different now,” the “optics” of being perceived as an elitist, privileged, exclusionary community – and above all, the fear of Hartford.

Instead of targeting non-residents, effective management and rules enforcement are the key objectives. But this requires leadership that doesn’t equate Compo to a Vermont ski resort.

These tone-deaf missteps needlessly blemished our community. It was avoidable.

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40 responses to “[OPINION] “Tone Deaf Missteps” Lead To Westport’s 3rd Rail

  1. Dr. Walshon’s summary of what happened here in our Town these past six years in regards to the exorbitant Beach Parking fees is spot on. It is our shameful reminder that the “anti-immigrant, anti-Other” fever that gripped our entire country during the Trump Era also, tragically, took hold of our community.

    Case in point: I remember raising the issue of free beach day parking for our active duty military and their families back then. The members of the Park and Rec Commission assured me that they would see that this was done. It wasn’t.

    Perhaps this Op Ed piece is a sign that this ugly fever has, at long last, broken. Lowering the costs is a first step. But it still needs to be reduced more. Much more.

  2. Is Jen MBA an employee? What salary and to whom does she report. Perhaps her supervisor is more competent. Worth a try. 🇺🇸

  3. India van Voorhees

    Somehow there has to be a happy compromise.

    I agree we shouldn’t be exclusionary. But I think we do need to make sure the residents have access. Years ago I stopped going to Compo on the weekends – it was over crowded and parking was hard to find or a long walk away. That isn’t fair either.

    So perhaps the solution is to reduce the fees further, but to keep a tight limit on non-resident season passes and daily passes.
    As to the latter, was a study ever done to determine how the new limits were working? If not, I think there should be a “task force” to see how the current limits actually affect beachgoing. How crowded are the beaches during the week, during the weekend? Is there ample, easy parking for residents? Track the data, poll the residents. Maybe the limits are too strict. Maybe they only need to be strict on the weekends. How will lowering the fees change everything?

    Apparently we have a surplus of funds. Let’s hire someone for the summer to figure this out.

  4. It’s great and all that he’s reconsidering the ridiculously high fees for out of towners but why such a steep jump for Weston residents? its a major insult when our town contributes to Westport business 100%. This is something that should be reconsidered.

  5. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    “All problems can be expeditiously solved if you view them as opportunities after first determining the intersection of needs.”

    I propose the following:

    All persons (everybody, residents and non residents alike) may enter and park in designated lots at the beach. They may thus enjoy the beauty of the world’s most beautiful and cleanest recreational facility in the world’s most virtuous and intellectually gifted town. Westport is known for its unofficial motto: “We never defecate whereupon thou eatest.”

    In order to exit the lot they may either pay the daily $75 fee or produce a standard Hefty Cinch Sack garbage bag (available for purchase at the guard shack) filled to its full capacity. Upon doing so, their parking ticket shall be voided and they are free to leave.

  6. I expect to see many people who agree and a few who disagree with this well written and inspiring opinion piece.

    However, I hope the message of this piece does not get lost.

    No important decision can be made without metrics to support the appropriate action and metrics to examine the success or failure of that action.

    I bought a pass at the new high rate for one year and then I found other ways to get to the beach. I am an N of 1. I hope future access plans are supported with data and not just anecdotes and opinions.

  7. Done deaf missteps, a lack of transparency, and further stone-walling of local residents seems to be standard operating procedure at Parks/Rec. Maybe it’s time for a reorg at this ‘independent’ town department, with search/replacement of the director TBD.

  8. Michael Elliot

    It would be nice to understand exactly how much our Westport resident tax dollars go into and support Parks and Recreation facilities of which Compo Beach must be a major cost center. I get it is a public beach. I also get residents surely pay the lions share of upkeep. ALSO, why is Sherwood Island State Park never never mentioned in these discussions. It is huge and last I heard access is free…….just saying.

    • During the weekends of warmer months Sherwood Island fills up fast. Notices that it is closed are flashed on the I-95 signage… usually by 9 or 10 AM… families who tried too late to get into Sherwood Island spill over to Compo and Burying Hill, paying the high fees rather than losing a planned day at the beach.

  9. Jay Walshon MD FACEP

    India van Vourhees:

    Thank you for again highlighting these three items:
    “The beach was “over-crowded”, “Weekend parking is hard to find”, and “That isn’t fair either”.

    “Beach Overcrowding”: Despite continuously hearing this assertion used to restrict non-resident visitors, I still have no idea of what this actually means, or how an “over-crowded” beach is being determined. I’ve never seen a “person capacity limit” that would determine “beach over-crowding”, nor a viable premise for making such determination.

    “Weekend parking is hard to find”: On a handful of hot summer weekends finding a parking space at Compo Beach may be difficult – however turning away a Westport resident, even during those few situations, has been stated to be a “rare occurrence”. However consider that Westport’s residents purchase over 16,000 emblems and Weston over 1,100 – for only 1,500 parking spaces. Determining where any Compo parking crunch is likely emanating from is not difficult.

    “That isn’t fair either”: Fairness is something we need to seriously address. The paradigm that residents decried in 2017 that “OUR beach is no longer our beach” and that “Westport residents pay the taxes that maintain the beach while non-residents do not” needs to shift.

    The entire CT shoreline is held in the Public Trust – it is not OUR shoreline. Fairness is a subjective concept that needs to be better determined.

    In addition, it appears that non-resident revenues cover more than the entirety of Compo’s expenses. However all that revenue gets hidden in the General Fund, thereby promoting the false appearance that it’s only residents who pay for Compo through their taxes.

    As Jimmy Izzo stated, it would be really interesting to determine exactly how much revenue Compo generates when all the fees, events, kayak storage, concession stand, etc. are added together and contrast that with the actual expenses Compo requires. Right now that is not public information.

    • India van Voorhees

      Sorry – I didn’t see your reply until just now.

      Let’s begin with the fact that I was saying it isn’t fair to be exclusionary and it also isn’t fair for residents to not have easy access – and that a compromise can be reached. Please don’t lump me in with anyone else or put words in my mouth.

      The thrust of my comment was to ask if any data had been accumulated on all points, and if not – that it should be.

      What’s fair, what’s overcrowded, and what’s considered insufficient parking are mostly subjective calls. We each have a right to our opinion. Please don’t lecture me. I’m partially in agreement with you.

  10. It’s quite obvious that Jen Fava doesn’t have the answer for things she gets paid to know. Let’s get someone in that position that values their job and values Westport residents! As a
    Longtime resident I see our facilities Beach , pool, golf , tennis , platform tennis being used frequently by non residents at the expense of residents out Westport taxes should give us some advantage. Again lets get someone in Favs’s position that appreciates her job and the residents who pay her salary

  11. We have a Finance Department & Board of Finance capable of answering specific questions about income & expenses. Just ask.

    • Gloria,
      Compo beach is mixed into Budget Division 836 which includes ALL beaches plus the Longshore pool. On 12/20/17 Mr. Calise specifically requested the Compo information prior to the PRC increasing non-residents to $775. He was told by Ms. Fava that Compo expenses/revenues are NOT segregated out, so she couldn’t provide that information because, allegedly, the PRD doesn’t have that.. A transparent public examination of Compo would require that information, and it should not be difficult to calculate. Perhaps the RTM and BoF can request it to be separately detailed and presented.

  12. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    I guess the idea of everybody just pick up the trash to enjoy a cleaner town is a non-starter at today’s Green Westport. Does paying property tax excuse slovenliness? I guess equity means YOU pick up the trash because I pay taxes not to have to. Stephanie, do you want to weigh in on this? Hate has no home here (but trash does).

  13. Has anyone that agrees with this further lowering of non-resident fees been to Sherwood Island beach during the summer? I went last summer and it was HORRIBLE. The smell from the garbage was unbearable and there was so much smoke billowing from grill after grill that I was worried my child would be harmed from smoke inhalation. I am not exaggerating, there was that much smoke! Is this what we want for the future of Compo? There is a cause and effect for everything so further lowering fees for non-residents is not going to fix anything. It will just expose new issues. Unless the only concern is addressing optics. If so, then have fun at Compo, I mean Sherwood! I mean what is the difference?!

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      As any good Westport Mad Man from the 60’s will tell you: It’s all in the branding strategy. “Sherwood” is so 1836. Look at the old Sherwood Square storefronts on Myrtle Avenue. It was stagnant. Then the NYC branding experts came in and changed it to “Sconset Square.” The same innovative thinking can turn Sherwood Island into Sconset Island. The out of towners will flock there like the lemmings they are and we Westporters who pay taxes will get our beach and our privacy back. Jack!!!

  14. I don’t mean to be stuck on a relatively minor point, but if the beach is driving such a surplus, why can’t P&R hire enough people to clean it up?

    I’m not defending the slovenly behavior of some beach-goers, but cleaning the place should be a high (and reasonably inexpensive, in the grand scheme of things) priority.

    • Send out the kids. We at Staples in the’70’s would clean up Compo from time to time. It took all of five minutes because no one littered much then.

      • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

        I took pride in Compo when I was a carefree Westport teenager. Enjoyed taking in a movie at the old Fine Arts followed by a little “fun and games” at the submarine races. After dropping off my date I still had time to swing back to Compo and pick up the trash so the recreation department maintenance crew wasn’t inconvenienced. Then watch the 11PM news to keep up on world affairs and tucked in bed for the night by 11:45. Then up the following morning at the crack of dawn to head over to church.

  15. I have rarely gone to Compo in the past few years, but I remember seeing a huge tent on the South Beach, which was put up by a group that was driven to the beach by a taxi. Are tents allowed?

  16. Katya Wauchope

    This is enraging. Who is this Ms Fava and why is she so tone deaf? $545 or whatever it is now is still so expensive! Compo is not the Maldives last time I checked, which was about a week ago. Nope, not Maldives. Thank you for bringing transparency to this issue!

    • as noted earlier, Jen Fava is the Parks/Rec Director, a full-time town position

      • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

        Lots of “Jens” in the news these days. Psaki. Fava. Tooker. Any others I may have missed? What do they have in common? (besides their first names) They all are from CT. They are all females. They are all in very important positions of power. And, what is most notable, two of the three are Westporters. That’s over 66%!!! We’re very fortunate. When the apocalypse arrives, they won’t forget about us. We’ll be saved.

  17. Dick Lowenstein

    And why does Weston get a better non-Westport rate than other towns, including neighboring Wilton?

    I asked that question at the Board of Selectwomen meeting last month. No one knew why. (The Westport Journal accurately reported what happened:)


    • Dick, as I have told you before, it’s based on long ties between Westport and Weston (Westport was a part of Weston until 1835). Weston students went to Staples High School until 1970. We have the Y’s Men of Westport and Weston, and the Westport Weston Family YMCA. We share the same health district (with Easton too).

      • Dick Lowenstein

        I knew most of that when I asked my question. But should it continue? Times change and this is 2023 not 1970.

        • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

          When I was an instructor I always said that the only bad question is the one not asked. The “Why Weston?” question deserves the Nobel Prize.

  18. Joseph Vallone

    I have commented on this issue in the past. It is a beach located on land owned by the Town. The State also owns land in Westport, with a beach, open to the public, with excellent facilities.

    I would be very interested to learn how beaches owned by affluent communities on The Cape or in the Hamptons, or in Newport, treat this same issue? It shouldn’t be hard for a Parks and Rec employee to go online and assemble a report on how other communities deal with beach access.

    As a person who does not own a swimming pool, we spend a fair amount of time, every weekend, of every Summer, at Compo Beach. My children grew up playing on that beach. That is why we moved here. That is one of the main reasons we still live here. Yet, as I mentioned above, it is a Town beach. While I don’t believe anyone should be prohibited from having access to our shoreline, at what point does it no longer feel like a Town beach?

    Finally, I am stating this all with tongue in cheek, just some thoughts, just sit-in’ here thinking’, not to be taken seriously, so please no angry replies; We are known for our schools, who are we to deny students from other towns, entrance to our schools, as long as the pay? What about our ball fields, we have beautiful soccer, baseball, field hockey and football fields, shall we accept money from people in other communities use our facilities? What about our library, what if people from other communities decided they want to rent the entire library, four nights a week and they will pay dearly for that opportunity. Would all that be ok? My point is; (oh and here comes a painful metaphor) where do we as a community, draw a line in the sand ? The answer; I don’t know. But what I do know is in the scheme of life, I think we have much bigger fish to fry than this beach entrance fee issue. I am happy I don’t have to make that decision.

  19. Dr. Walshon, Please note I did not suggest asking the Rec Commission or Ms. Fava for line item information.
    Line item data IS available from the Finance Director, but requests must be directed there.
    A small group of Westporters recently made a similar request to the Finance Director and promptly received all the expense details they required and then some.

    • Robert M Gerrity

      Thank you for that IMPORTANT piece of information: Finance Department has LINE ITEM breakdowns — but not Ms Fava? Do they not send a copy to her? Does she not request a copy? Does she not analyze that information? Seemingly, NO.

      Her lack of knowledge on the important details of her job is INEXCUSABLE. She made that $775 decision on her own??? Who does she report to? Where is the supervision?

      And why has the Finance Committee and the RTM overall not held peoples’ feet to the fire over this “lack of transparency”?

      While I am an historian, I do have a Masters in Public Administration and, in one position, spent a lot of time working with hospital ITs and Finance departments to correctly link line items into a management report that was shared with upper management and department heads. Then, it was printed weekly; after I left, it finally become available daily online. That was the early 1990s. It was a business NECESSITY. Where the $ come from and where do the $ go.

  20. Parks & Recreation the last couple of years has definitely changed, and not entirely for the positive because across the spectrum, there are many people who are fathomed by certain activities.

    Trees randomly marked and cut up, no answer. Albie Loeffler field was dressed and seeded last year, only played twice on, and field was closed because the grubs were so bad (my grandkids play soccer).

    There’s not enough staff. Multiple employees are taking massive overtime, but also, when these kids leave in early august there’s no one to cover the facilities. Also, minimum wage increases cost the facilities MORE to run now.

    Finally, the designated parking for daily visitors…I cannot stand.

    The beach is open to all, you pay for parking your car. It is limited to 140 visitor spots?? You know how ridiculous it is to turn people away because visitors spots are full but the beach could be wide open? We’re turning down money, which could go to services, Maintanence, facilities, budget, etc.

    The friends of compo beach group were appalled that their favorite parking spot was occupied a couple times. This is not THIER beach as much as it’s not mine, but this petty micromanaging efforts are useless.

    The prices are high, but then to limit them and still have daily passes, only makes sense if the $775 or $545 is surpassed after 7-15 visits depending on weekday or weekend.

    Morale and patience is low at parks and recreation.

  21. Too bad the Commission is appointed, rather than voted in.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

      It’s not bad at all, if the person (presumably an elected person) that appointed them decides it might serve the town’s best interest to pull zee plug or get zee boot at election time.

    • What would you do if you were on the board? Or even a Westport resident?

      • Being appointed, I would have to follow the policies of the Selectmen. As a resident, I would vote for leaders whose policies I agree with.

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