Finding the Middle Ground at Santa Monica's Palisades Park
October 9, 2013
As you may know, I am the Commissioner who originally began the discussion about the proliferation of Personal/Group Trainers in our City Parks. I became concerned as an increasing number of private trainers made Palisades Park (and to a less extent, Clover Park) their new office.
I saw resistance bands tied to trees, light posts, fences and park benches throughout the Park that Santa Monica residents hold most sacred, Palisades Park. It's our City's first Park and generations have used this prime piece of real estate on the edge of the Pacific Ocean as their refuge from the daily rigors of life, the spot to reflect on their day and the place they go to dream about tomorrow. It has been and continues to be our true Promenade and for our residents, a special source of pride.
The Boot Camps, Group classes and Personal classes continued to grow and prosper while citizens had to dodge cones illegally blocking areas of our parks, large weights plunked down on our grass, tree limbs shattered and instructors yelling at 6:00AM in our neighborhood Parks became the norm. To be clear, almost all of these classes were for profit and used the people's land illegally. This issue came before the Recreation & Parks Commission and our Commission voted to prohibit group classes in Palisades Park specifically and to explore the situation that was developing in the remainder of our City Parks. The City Council discussed the issue and directed the Community & Cultural Services staff to return to their chambers with an ordinance.
I noted very little support of our Commission's stand by the Council and, while the personal and group trainers showed up en masse, very few proponents of a ban on group training or personal paid training made an appearance. It was clear to me that the Council would not support a ban on paid fitness training in Santa Monica Parks.
Our Commission revisited the issue in May of this year and voted to ask the Council to ban all paid fitness training in Palisades Park. The Commission supported the proposed ordinance detailed in item 7-A in all other Parks in Santa Monica. The ban was passed by a 4-3 margin in our Commission. Our Commission took a stand in support of the people of this city and said we should not be leasing our sacred parkland to private enterprise. I voted with the majority. Other parts of this proposed ordinance were crafted to help our City staff regulate and enforce regulations on the books and provide some structure if the City Council decided to sanctify Private Training on Public Land.
After much reflection and discussion with residents I have decided to modify my viewpoint. My belief is that the Council will not ban paid Personal or Group Training on our Public land and while I find that distasteful I am, by nature, a pragmatic optimist. The Plan that will be adopted bans the attachment of items to our Park objects, both man made and nature made, it sets limits to the amount of each weight (bar bell) that can be brought into our Parks, it allows limited zones for group and personal training in Palisades Park and limits the number that can be in a group class. In Palisades Park, the northern most three blocks cannot be used for personal or group training thereby keeping a portion of the Park as a passive area, it instills a permit system and a "tax" on the gross earnings of the trainers thereby ensuring some funds for restoring the areas that are damaged by the trainers use. The "tax" is meant to be higher in Palisades Park to insure that more trainers gravitate to other city Parks. The 15% fee in Palisades Park, the 10% fee in our other Parks will also help steer some of the Personal & Group Training out of our City and back into the numerous private Gyms in the area. A limited number of Group classes can be in Palisades Park at any one time and, much like our Surf Camps, there will be a limit on the amount of licenses granted.
Most importantly, the Ordinance only allows 15 members in a class, limits the amount of classes per day and is relatively easy to enforce by existing City personnel in Palisades Park. The Ordinance bans training & private classes completely in some City Parks (although I realize it's not in the one we all want it to be in) and the entire ordinance can be reviewed in 1 year by staff, our Commission and Council. It allows for a framework that we did not have before to regulate a private enterprise that has encroached on City Park land. Part of life is learning the art of compromise. I ask that we try this ordinance for the next year, see if the trainers uphold and follow the rules that will be laid out for them. If we have enforcement issues they can be revisited in twelve months. Park Rangers, Code enforcement staff, SMPD officers and Park staff can enforce the Ordinance.
I will ask the City Council to create an "enterprise zone" for Reed Park for the next 12 months. We need to encourage activity in the "green section" of the Park so I suggest that the Council cap fees in that park at 5% of the gross proceeds of trainers. I will also ask that the Council remain flexible enough to be able to truly reconsider the Ordinance in late 2014. I want to be clear. I would prefer that neither Palisades Park or any of our Parks have any paid private personal or group trainers at any time that are not fully under the auspices of our Community & Cultural Services Department. However as I said earlier, there is reality. Item 7-A is an improvement upon the current reality. It establishes clear rules for this activity. Activity which was not previously regulated. I know that many of our residents have lined up on opposite sides of this issue and, of course, the trainers have signaled that they would like bigger classes and less regulation. If 7-A can be adopted with only the one modification that I have advocated for Reed Park, if the proposed fees (tax) remain 15%, 10% & 5% and all other staff recommendations remain in place this Ordinance is acceptable.
Phillip L Brock
Chair, Santa Monica Recreation & Parks Commission