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City Council, Opinion, Parks, Santa Monica, Columnist

The Santa Monica City Council, Palisades Park & Santa Monicans

Susan Cloke, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Susan Cloke, Columnist

Posted Oct. 26, 2013, 9:29 am

Susan Cloke / Mirror Columnist

Santa Monica City Council. Oct. 22, 2013. Item 7-A. Second Reading and Adoption of an Ordinance Amending Santa Monica Municipal Code (SMMC) Chapter 4.55 Related to Commercial Fitness or Athletic Instruction, Classes or Camps in Parks and the Beach.

The question before the Council: Should commercial fitness classes be allowed in Santa Monica Parks? Top of the list, should they be allowed in Palisades Park?

When the agenda item was called Gleam Davis moved and Pam O’Connor seconded the motion to adopt the Ordinance. Bob Holbrook voted no. Kevin McKeown voted no. Tony Vazquez voted no. Ted Winterer voted yes. Terry O’Day was not present. Under parliamentary rules an ordinance needs four votes to pass. This was a tied 3-3 vote. The Ordinance failed.

That was it. If the City wanted to take up the issue again it would have to be as a new item. Or was it?

About 25 minutes later Council Member McKeown made a procedural motion to reconsider the vote on 7-A. He said, “I’ve decided to pull on my big boy pants and do the right thing. If we do nothing tonight we will not have regulated fitness trainers in any of our parks.”

Council member Holbrook offered an alternative to McKeown’s motion to vote to reconsider the ordinance and instead suggested moving on and enacting regulations regarding commercial fitness training classes in parks as appropriate. He said he planned to put an Item 13 (a Council Member item request) on the next agenda to do just that.

Council Member Vazquez, a consistent opponent of allowing commercial fitness training classes in Palisades Park, recommended letting the failure of the ordinance stand and directing Staff to return with an ordinance regulating commercial fitness classes in appropriate parks and banning them in Palisades Park.

Council member McKeown said, “My desire to protect Palisades Park remains unchanged. But we have to do something because what we see now (with the fitness classes) is the Wild West.”

Council member Davis said, “We have been considering this issue for over a year. All this ordinance calls for is a pilot program (in Palisades Park and regulations for all the parks). Let’s go ahead and see what happens.”

Council member Holbrook stated that a lot had changed in just the last two weeks since the First Reading of the Ordinance. He said many City Commissioners had asked him why the Council was ignoring their advice to ban the commercial fitness classes in Palisades Park.

Holbrook added that all the Neighborhood Organizations had communicated to Council about prohibiting commercial fitness classes in Palisades Park. He also said he’d received a slew of emails asking him to ban the classes in Palisades Park.

“This is the loudest I’ve seen our community since the hedge ordinance,” he said. “It’s a big thing in the City and it’s getting bigger.”

Mayor Pam O’Connor thought it was an age thing.

“It is a difficult decision and we know that there are appropriate uses of different parks,” she said. “But I think this is an age thing. There are a group of younger folks who are into fitness training and they want this and I think we have to change with the times. I think we owe this (to allow fitness trainers in Palisades Park) to our young people.”

With Kevin McKeown’s vote his motion for reconsideration passed and the Ordinance was adopted. Council members Holbrook and Vazquez voted no.

Council members Davis, McKeown, O’Connor, and Winterer voted yes.

In an email sent on Oct. 23, the day after passing the ordinance, McKeown wrote, “The balance here is only one vote… One advantage of my casting my unenthusiastic vote last night is that I’m now on the prevailing side, and have the right to bring the ordinance back for reconsideration, with a clause protecting Palisades Park…. I don’t see any point in my doing that until the community works on that fourth vote. I’ve argued the case as best I could, and failed to sway my colleagues.”

In a letter to the Council dated Oct. 8, 2013, Phil Brock, Chair of the Recreation and Parks Commission, wrote, “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.”

Calling himself a ‘pragmatic optimist’ he went on to say in the letter that he had come to realize that the Council could not be convinced to ban the classes in Palisades Park and so, reluctantly, he would support the proposed Ordinance because it would enact regulations for the classes that would protect other parks.

The Neighborhood Groups: North of Montana Association, Santa Monica Northeast Neighbors, Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition, Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors, and North of Montana Association all signed an open letter to the Council asking the Council to reconsider their decision to allow commercial fitness instruction in Palisades Park.

“Palisades Park is more than a municipal resource. It is a national treasure,” they wrote. It’s America’s gateway to the Pacific, a cherished view corridor that daily welcomes thousands of people, both local residents and visitors from all over the world.

“If the ordinance is enacted as currently written, private businesses will be free to use taxpayer-supported lands as their private fiefs, interfering with the public’s use and enjoyment of the historic lands that make up Palisades Park.

“Under the measure that received provisional approval from the Santa Monica City Council members of the public would be barred from the use of four newly designated “commercial group training zones” (in Palisades Park) for up to 15 hours a day, 6 days a week, from 6 am to 9 pm.”

Adding their voices to the discussion, the Ocean Park Association, Friends of Sunset Park, and the Pico Neighborhood Association wrote to the Council saying, “It is our opinion that all parks, beaches and public areas should not be used for commercial purposes except by special permit for a limited time use that is in the public interest,” they wrote.

“Are Santa Monica taxpayers who maintain and fund new parks expected to make way for commercial business interests in our parks…?”

The Neighborhood Groups listed above represent every neighborhood in the City. Their opinion should be, and historically has been, of utmost importance to the Council.

So what happened? Why the schism between the Council and the Neighborhood Groups, the Commissioners and the hundreds of Santa Monicans who have communicated with the Council directly and the thousand plus who have signed petitions?

This is not about fitness classes. Santa Monica is a place where just about everyone exercises. Santa Monicans jog, ride bikes, go to Yoga classes and NIA dance classes, hire trainers and go to gyms to work out.

This is about the City Parks. This is especially about Palisades Park. The Council has somehow blundered into messing with an icon.

Palisades Park is the first City Park. Originally named Linda Vista because of the great views from the Park, it was a favored promenade of both Arcadia Bandini and Senator Jones.

Palisades Park has a unique plant palette, the gorgeous Arts and Crafts Pergola and is our only Park with a Landmark Designation.

Allowing sections of the park to be set aside for commercial fitness classes is a misunderstanding of how the park has been used historically and how it continues to be used by the hundreds of Santa Monicans and visitors to Santa Monica who come, daily, to Palisades Park.

Santa Monica supports surf camps on the beach, tennis at Ocean View Park, basketball at VAP, softball at Memorial Park, soccer at the Airport Park.

There are also appropriate parks for fitness classes, but not Palisades Park.

Palisades Park is Santa Monica’s only park specifically designed for contemplation and quiet thought. Its linear character naturally supports its original use as a Grand Promenade, a place for leisurely strolls at sunset and for early morning jogging among the beautiful trees and, yes, for the gorgeous views. It’s also a great place to picnic, to meet your friends, a place for children to run and play.

Palisades Park is a place of meaning and memory, of imagery and importance in a way that cannot be said about any other park in Santa Monica. A photo of Palisades Park is synonymous with Santa Monica and is recognized around the world.

At the Council meeting Davis said, “the Council has been working on this matter for over a year.”

Her frustration is understandable. It may be fair to discuss whether people should have communicated their concerns sooner to the Council and/or whether the Council should have gone out into the community earlier. But that is in the past.

Now is the time to show respect to the founders of Santa Monica for their gift to the City and to recognize our responsibility to protect that gift for our benefit and the benefit of residents and visitors of the future.

What Say You?

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Comments

Oct. 26, 2013, 11:07:18 am

Sharon Gilpin said...

I lived in lovely Santa Monica for 27 years. When I was a waitress on the pier in the 70's I would walk home to Idaho and 3rd through the park and look at the night sky. When my great aunt passed away we were going through her photos and there was the family eating their picnic lunch in the park. When I come into town today I hit Palisades Park first. Commercial venues have no place in the park. Individuals are free to jog or walk, etc. but there is no sensible public policy in allowing commercial classes there at all. I think the people that voted Yes don't use it.

Oct. 26, 2013, 12:53:19 pm

Charles said...

Keep trainer and their classes OUT of Palisades Park! That also includes the moms with strollers class that invade large spaces and prevent people from jogging or walking

Oct. 26, 2013, 11:33:33 pm

Truth said...

Maybe if the city councilors were held accountable for their actions and voted out next election...but that never happens. Why do you keep electing the same capitalist cronies and expecting a different outcome? These jokers are in it for the money just like ALL politicians on a local and national scale. Even our precious pretend-liberal McKeown "last minute" voted for the money like he always does. They are going to commercialize and develop every last inch of Santa Monica and throw you a little bone every once in a while... call it Tongva Park. That's all you get so you better like it.

Oct. 27, 2013, 9:38:37 am

roxy khani said...

Keep training out of the Park.

Oct. 27, 2013, 10:41:05 am

GSMGETSIT said...

This article is totally incomplete.... What are the four zones? What are the fees? Do the non-participants in these classes have the right to walk in these locations? Core facts are missing.

Oct. 28, 2013, 9:22:00 am

Susan Holcomb said...

I’m disappointed that the Santa Monica City Council voted to adopt an ordinance allowing commercial fitness instruction, classes and camps in newly designated “commercial fitness zones” within Palisades Park. While regulation of use of the park for commercial purposes is welcome (and long overdue), in my opinion the Council should have completely banned commercial training from Palisades Park. It’s a shame that Councilmembers O’Day, Davis, and Winterer haven’t recognized the great “public” benefit that already exists in Palisades Park – including the opportunity for people to run, bike, walk, push strollers, individually exercise or do yoga stretches, picnic with friends and family, play a game of chess or checkers, have birthday parties for our kids, enjoy a book on a park bench, appreciate the beauty of nature, and more. All of these activities are free – available for and enjoyed by everyone, not simply for those who can afford to pay. When the Santa Monica Outdoor Fitness Coalition (representing for-profit trainers and their clients) met with Santa Monica City Staff to carve out the details of the ordinance, why were members of the public not invited to participate? Why was City Staff’s original recommendation to permit only 1-on-1 or 1-on-2 commercial training in Palisades Park quickly discarded in favor of class sizes of up to 15 paying clients? Eight classes per hour for up to 15 students with mats and exercise equipment (included permitted weights of up to 25 pounds) will cut a wide swath through the park’s “public” areas, and also seriously degrade turf and compact soil. Commercial enterprises should not be allowed in Palisades Park, the crown jewel of Santa Monica, period.

Oct. 28, 2013, 9:46:37 am

Adam G. said...

Ms. Cloke - My family and I thank you for your thoughts on this subject. We couldn't agree with you more....commercial training classes have no place in Palisades Park. Addressing Councilmember Davis's comment that this is "an age issue" - my family includes 2 young children, and our enjoyment of the park has been ruined by the proliferation of large fitness classes and boot camps. They dominate the grassy areas in the park where our kids used to run around, and the trainers and the students have been aggressive in their behavior. To assert that continuing to allow classes of up to 15 students all day long in the park will in any way solve this problem is pure fantasy. The Santa Monica City Council should vote to ban commercial training in Palisades Park and give the park back to the public, including many families who love and use the park.

Oct. 28, 2013, 2:08:26 pm

Brian Burke said...

Thanks Susan. You raise critical concerns about the City Council's recent decision to allow boot camps in Palisades Park. Did they not hear the roar? Except for the two steadfast votes from Council members Vasquez and Holbrook, the City Council has surprisingly ignored the public, and a very large segment of the public. Did they not the roar from the North of Montana to Wilshire, from Mid City to the Northeast, from Ocean Park to Sunset Park—the numerous neighborhood organizations all pleading with the Council to ban boot camps in Palisades Park? Did they did they not hear their very own representatives, members of the public, appointed by the council, to advise them on parks—the Recreation and Parks Commission—when it officially called for a ban on all training groups in Palisades Park? And did they not hear the same plea from the Landmarks Commission? And did they not hear the pleas of Friends of Palisades Park, and all the residents who signed the petition and offered clear documentation of the unsustainable consequences of boot camps? And why did they even dismisses their own staff leadership which repeatedly urged the Council to allow no more than a 1 to 1, or 1 to 2 ratio of trainers in Palisades Park? In the face of this massive and multifaceted roar of public opinion the Council's decision seems almost pathological. Is it a shirking of a sworn duty to listen to the public? It's hard to fathom. Chips on a poker table It would be unfair to say the City Council's decision was not without reason. They have argued, for example, that they wanted to listen to all sides. They want to negotiate and arbitrate between viewpoints. Thus anyone advocating for the public interest has no more weight than one advocating for his/her personal interests. Unfortunately, this perspective treats community assets as mere chips on a poker table. You get yours; we get ours. But when a precious community asset is endangered, the wisest decision, as the great arbiter of old, King Solomon, knew well, you don't inflict damage to one in order to appease the personal interests of another. Science without the scientist The Council also argued that the pilot ordinance will only be an experiment, a test, a yearlong study. But what is most disturbing about this experiment is the Council's failure to establish any clear criteria or scientific strategy by which they will evaluate or monitor the impact of trainers. Friends of Palisades Park has officially asked the Council and CCS director, Karen Ginsberg, to develop specific measurements, establish specific criteria, to evaluate the program. As yet, there has been no reply. Boot camps impact soil and grasses The most significant impact boot camps have had and will continue to have on the park is on its grasses and soils. In the past their impact has been unsustainable and serious problems of soil compaction has resulted. See pictures and documentation at www.Friends of Palisades Park.net. We are delighted that some restoration has begun, but it needs to be extended., More importantly the city need to scientifically monitor the impact trainers are currently having and now will continue to have. Such scientific data is easy to obtain. A google search for "soil compaction instruments" can be found easily. The Council and staff seem to have rejected the use of science in evaluating the impact of boot camps. Sheriffs of the wild west Phil Brock, Chairman of the Parks Commission, and Council Member Kevin McKeon say they reluctantly approved the new ordinance allowing boot camps in the Park because it'd be like having a new sheriff in town, with the ordinance as their shiny new badge. They argue we'd all be able to contain those renegade trainers who've taken over the park. Certainly both representatives are to be commended for their outspoken concerns for the park, but across such concerns falls a darker shadow when they offer no clear enforcement procedures, nor provided any new personnel to actually control or monitor the trainers. For complete documentation and photos of this issue please see: www.Friends of Palisades Park.net

Oct. 29, 2013, 11:14:05 am

Robin said...

Palisades Park should be used by the people and not for commercial enterprises. My friends and I used to jog and picnic in the park regularly, but these days it's become an obstacle course to navigate with all the classes and boot camps. I don't think this ordinance will help matters at all. The Santa Monica City Council should have banned all for-profit training classes and boot camps from Palisades Park. There are other parks that are better suited for large classes, and commercial enterprises always have the option to rent commercial space.

Dec. 17, 2013, 9:38:26 pm

Beach Yoga Fan said...

I understand that this all began with Palisades Park and the problem with how to balance the different needs, wants and uses of Santa Monicans and others in the surrounding areas. Now the ordinance as it stands affects and applies to the beach as well as other Santa Monica Parks and serves to impose a prohibitive fee on a lovely beach yoga class which has been operating donation only for 5.5 years. No one has complained, there is no lasting environmental impact and it is actually a draw for tourists, business travelers as well as locals. It was honored in print as one of the cities top attractions and is a low cost option ($10 donation) for a physical and spiritual experience. Beach Yoga with Brad (see website) is a completely different circumstance than the Palisades Park issue and instead of making a decision on that problem, they chose to impose an excessive fee permit on all activity in all parks and beaches which in essence prohibits anyone but the well endowed entity who can afford $5500/yr from operating. So who won? Not the citizens who wished their Palisades Park would be unfettered by trainers and boot camps. Certainly not the Beach Yoga group who is now facing the demise of Beach Yoga with Brad; an innocent bystander to the whole controversy, and not any of the trainers or yoga teachers who are trying to eek out a living and provide a service. They are certainly not getting rich doing this kind of work. Santa Monica City council is operating in a vacuum and is choosing to ignore the input from groups who oppose the across the board permit idea instead of taking the time to consider reasonable and fair options and accommodate the majority of citizens affected the this decision.

Jan. 20, 2014, 11:23:32 am

Santa Monica Resident said...

A grand jury investigation into the malfeasance of the city comptroller's office in the case of Ron Hicks of West Coast Care may be in order. Hicks has been fleecing the public based on a do-nothing job. How does this boondoggle continue without scrutiny? Hicks should be fired ASAP.

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