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Stairway to Conflict:

The 4th Street stairs from Adelaide Drive along the south rim of Santa Monica Canyon down to Entrada Drive on the canyon floor have long been a local exercise venue. Santa Monica and Los Angeles firefighters have climbed them to keep in shape. They have been called the “secret weapon” of the Santa Monica Track Club when its athletes were training for the Olympics. A local resident recently credited the stairs for “saving [his] life” when he worked out of depression on the stairs after his son’s death.

But there’s trouble in paradise. During the last couple of years, exercise usage of the stairs has increased dramatically, including not only individuals who run the stairs and then go home to shower, but also personal trainers and even group classes that bring weights and equipment and use the 4th Street grass median as an outdoor gym for fitness training sessions that incorporate the stairs as part of a more comprehensive workout.

Last Thursday, January 8, over 150 people gathered at the Main Library’s multipurpose room to air their opinions on the subject before a pantheon of City officials.

Events leading up to the meeting began last summer when the City responded to complaints from residents in the immediate vicinity of the stairs by assigning park rangers to enforce regulations prohibiting the use of the median for anything but walking and running (which would include a ban on stretching and such). The City was responding to complaints regarding everything from pre-dawn cadence calls to trash in yards and condoms in driveways.

The enforcement actions led to complaints from exercising stair-users, including many responsible individual climbers, and the conflicting complaints then just kept building.

The City Council took the matter up in the fall, with Councilmember Bobby Shriver taking pains to note that the City’s enforcement actions were not taken at the behest of any councilmembers (some of whom live in the neighborhood) – a fact confirmed by City Manager Lamont Ewell – and the City has since held town hall meetings to gather community input.

The January 8 meeting was the second town hall, and although the gathering began as a rather polarized assembly, Kate Vernez from the City Manager’s office was able to elicit a general consensus to some conceptual principles to build upon:

Prohibit commercial trainers with large groups;

• Work together through a volunteer good neighbor committee;

• Extend permit parking, which might restrict offloading weights and such;

• Have City personnel conduct trash pick-ups;

• Explore the construction of alternate recreational stairs, perhaps from Palisades Park to Pacific Coast Highway; and

• Restrict access to the 4th Street stairs for some period of the 24-hour day.

By the end of the meeting, everyone there also seemed to agree with stair climber Haskell Vaughn Anderson III that the stairs – and the world – needed more civility and respect, and that the stair climbers in attendance were not the irresponsible louts who trashed the area or counted cadence at 4 a.m.

The future use of the 4th Street stairs is still very much open, and the subject will be coming back to the City Council in the near future.

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