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Opinion, Santa Monica, Columnist, Steve Stajich

Public Spaces Are Exactly That

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

Posted May. 4, 2013, 8:56 am

Steve Stajich / Mirror Columnist

The City has heard the uplifted voices of exercise instructors and, for now, agreed to try and find harmony between what public spaces should be and a desire on the part of fitness trainers to use Santa Monica parks to – I’m sorry everybody – conduct business.  

Council members directed City staff to put together an ordinance that would effectively serve as a middle ground.  

There should be recognition of the fact that the Council has proved to be responsive and mend a rift that existed between City Hall and private trainers.

From The Mirror’s reporting: “Both sides were at odds about how much the City could collect from a trainer’s gross revenue, the size of classes offered, and the use of heavy weights. City Hall had considered possibly banning all fitness classes larger than two people at Palisades Park and prohibiting the use of heavy weights. With the council’s recommendations Tuesday night, some heavy equipment may now be allowed on-site.  Group classes may also be offered in addition to individual instruction. An agreement may also be reached with respect to the amount of money City Hall would collect from the private trainers. A permit system may also be put into effect.”

There are nine parks where private fitness instruction would not be allowed: Ashland Park, Euclid Park, Goose Egg Park, Joslyn Park, Muscle Beach Park, Ozone Park, Pacific Street Park, Park Drive Park, and Schader Park. And use of public spaces in Santa Monica for activities where money presumably changes hands have long included tennis and surf instructions, and are already regulated by City Hall.

So, what’s my problem?  

I feel as though the “middle ground” with the trainers is destined to become an expansion of the parameters of “use” for public spaces that will lead us into temptation, frankly.  

Let me ask a few questions of any parties currently involved in the dust-up over all this:  If trainers can lead classes for which they are paid in public parks, is there any reason the Girl Scouts shouldn’t be there at least two days a week selling cookies for their non-profit organization? You say the Scouts are soliciting money? What if I ask a trainer for a business card? Okay, fine.

Now if the Girl Scouts can be there, shouldn’t any legitimate non-profit be able to vend goods for fund raising there?  Say, for example, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee.

And if are we going to let the Nativity folks sell their cookies, the surfaces of which may or may not depict certain scenes from the Bible, then why aren’t they allowed to display their Nativity scenes in the park at Christmas?

The short answer is that we struggled with all that already. But the longer view, perhaps, is that we are giving private small businesses (training and trainers) what they want and we’ll be presented with a bill of sorts down the road.  

By radio, that nutty old-school media, I heard some of the statements made during the public comments before the City Council regarding the training in parks.  There was plenty said about how fitness should be a value in the life of citizens, and that having fit fitness folks doing their fitness in a public space reinforced good public, uh, fitness.  

Now consider this statement: “Life moves so fast now. Nothing is permanent. It stops working, you throw it out, “it” being anything from the washing machine to the husband. We are impatient for the new and the past is so quickly forgotten. But there is one trend that is like a mini-revolution against change. A commitment. A statement. A reminder of who you are and were.”   

That statement is by Nicole McInnnes, and she’s writing about tattoos. So if we believe tattoos demonstrate commitment and that they reflect who and what we are similar to how we want to be fit and have fitness be who we are, then I guess it would only be fair to allow tattoo artists with battery or solar-powered ink devices to ‘work out’ right next to the trainers in our parks. In both cases, families visiting a public park in Santa Monica would get some clear messages about values.

Of course with both the Nativity folks and the tattoo enthusiasts I’m only conjecturing based upon a sense that there’s a door standing open right now. A public space is just that; for use and enjoyment by the public. The minute we introduce commerce, whether it’s the direct commerce of paid training sessions or the presence of advertising disguised as something else (“Free Beach Maps… Courtesy of Yak-Yak Cell Phones!”) we are changing the parameters of “use” and “enjoyment.”   

Bottom line: I do think people ought to work out and be fit in parks if they want.  I just wish it was that.  It’s not: They’re conducting business.

Post a comment


May. 4, 2013, 10:00:14 am

Sue McHugh said...

Finally A voice of reason There is absolutely no reason for fitness instructors to use public facilities for their training. If they want be be in the fresh air, build a gym with no roof or an enclosed patio/courtyard. There are answers other than what the city council and the staff are spending taxpayer time and money to find.

May. 4, 2013, 10:29:25 am

Phil Brock said...

Thank you for this column. The two bottom lines regard the "leasing" of public park spaces to private for profit businesse that set up permanent shop in our parks in the same spot each day and advertise their presence. The second issue is the heavy use in an historic narrow park where trainers both disturb the tranquil feel of the park and continue to attach objects to park fixtures. The good outcome is that we will have a framework of an ordinance that can be refined over time and will include noise restrictions.

May. 4, 2013, 12:50:31 pm

Rodney Punt said...

Should commercial gyms be exported to Santa Monica's parks? This issue has been framed by advocates as an endorsement of fitness and the great out of doors meeting in a progressive city. But the truth is, it is about entrepreneurs co-opting public space to skirt fees and regulation of their business. It is about setting up an uneven competitive business model with legitimate fitness centers and even the local YMCA. It co-opts public space for private use and over-stresses public lawns with repetitive use of prime patches. Why then does the City Council even consider such enterprises? It boils down to caving in to any private interest that squeaks loudly enough. No one wins with principles are compromised, and the principle of public space for public use in one to protect, not dribble away.

May. 4, 2013, 4:58:17 pm

Kathryn Boole said...

Parks have always been set aside by cities to be used for the peace of mind of their residents, who have chosen to live in a densely populated environment. There is nothing wrong with each citizen using parks for his / her own physical fitness activity. However, when these activities are organized as paid classes, their occurrence destroys that very peace that we are trying to achieve in preserving our parkland.

May. 4, 2013, 6:16:09 pm

xboomer said...

Are you guys going to bitch if they conduct their training on the beach?

May. 4, 2013, 6:38:50 pm

News Flash said...

Santa Monica is FAR from a progressive city! It's a rich city that always goes where the money is. Very real estate developer friendly. Have you looked around at all the high rises going up and the traffic. SM is GOP all the way!

May. 4, 2013, 10:33:37 pm

Susan said...

Finally, a voice of reason. I don't understand why private businesses, health or otherwise, are allowed to to use our public parks to conduct business - let alone with little or no regulation or fees to the city. ... Opps, I just noticed that Sue McHugh said almost the exact same thing...

May. 5, 2013, 4:08:45 pm

GordonSantaMonica said...

As usual let’s make a mountain out of a molehill. Ok how about allowing individuals to bring badminton sets to the park to teach class on said subject. Let’s bring a basketball backboard setup so that we can play portable basketball. Oh yes how about volley ball sports training classes along with training classes on how to pitch a baseball or throw a football with skill? Please add to the list of who can do whatever they want. The council should consider the following as they deliberate the use of parks for trainers ... 1. Flat rate yearly License fee... maybe $1500 per year. 2. Limit the size of a training session. 3. Limit to the hour of the day that training sessions can occur. 4. Limit to specific locations for training sessions. 5. Trainer must demonstrate they have insurance to cover injuries or any other liabilities of any kind. 6. The trainer must be licensed by the state of California to perform such activity. 7. The City may have to consider additional liability insurance if the training sessions are permitted on city property. What are the costs?? The above is a short list of considerations, hopefully the public will add to this list. Following up on some of my qualifications for trainers let me expand my thoughts to the following … perhaps the limiting of who does what on the park grounds might be set up like the 3rd Street Promenade for entertainers and vendors … establish controls on designated areas, designated times, and resolve conflicts with the same controls as that which is used on the 3rd Street Promenade for the entertainers and vendors.

May. 6, 2013, 8:34:37 pm

Robert (Bob) Smith said...

Reading some weeks back, a fitness instructor who supports licencing, and compulsory insurance checks etc., stated that when he first started to use the park for training, it was a place that no one frequented very much. this was because of the presence of, drug users, syringes all over the place, drug dealers would have been somewhere around. There would have been other undesirable elements hanging out there as well, making the areas unsafe for the general populace. As fitness classes moved in, using the parks so did some of the ordinary, honest, citizens start to frequent the parks, the 'druggies' 'dealers' and other general ''scum moved out bit by bit, thereby making the areas safer again. I would say that the majority of class participants are local and live close to the area and therefore pay their dues and taxes to the city Council, so the thing to do is collect money etc., from the instructors to cover their usage and everything will be ok. Though I live on the other side of the world I would love to take a stroll through your lovely parks and gardens, if I could. Bob Smith (from Australia).

May. 7, 2013, 5:06:47 pm

Rodney Holland said...

Good points, and I agree. If they're going to kick out the Nativity scenes at Christmas (which many of us loved) then kick everyone out. If it's a business or if money is changing hands... then I guess they've all got to go now.... off the public spaces.

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