Hoping to strike a compromise worthy of shaming the current governmental stalemate in Washington, D.C., the City Council finally agreed Tuesday night to regulate commercial fitness training activity at Palisades Park and other open spaces across Santa Monica.
Five of the six council members present supported an ordinance calling for a one-year pilot program establishing four fitness zones in Santa Monica and prohibiting commercial fitness training at Palisades Park every Sunday throughout 2014.
The new ordinance, which still has to pass a second reading, outlines fees for and regulations governing fitness instructors who want to use parks, beaches, and open space as a venue to conduct personal or group training sessions.
Trainers would have to pay City Hall a flat fee – as opposed to a percentage-based fee structure as originally proposed – in order to have the privilege to conduct exercise activities at various approve public locations across Santa Monica.
For example, trainers who conduct one-on-one courses would dole out $1,800 to City Hall at approved locations. Trainers who lead group fitness activities of three to 10 people must pay a $3,600 fee, while those training 11 or more people would be dinged $5,400.
If a trainer wants to conduct a training session at Palisades Park, the fees would increase 50 percent, respectively. Conversely, in an attempt to incentivize Reed Park as a venue for commercial fitness training, City Hall would only charge trainers half of the respective flat fee rates to train there.
Should council members approve the ordinance again during second reading, it would go into effect in January 2014 and remain in place for a full year. The council would revisit the ordinance again when it expires in 2015, although City staff would update the dais on the pilot program’s progress at the six-month mark.
The ordinance outlines four zones at Palisades Park where group training would be ideal: Palisades Avenue north of Alta Avenue; Montana Avenue north to Palisades Avenue; the area immediately north of Idaho Avenue; and, Wilshire Boulevard north to the public restroom. The fourth zone between Wilshire Boulevard and the first public restroom of Palisades Park just north of the thoroughfare is the only zone below the California Incline.
During public comment, a representative of the Friends of Palisades Park presented a petition to council members, with 72 people signing on to it in opposition to personal or group training activity above the bluffs or on the beach as an “unsustainable use.”
Landmarks Commission chair Ruth Shari was skeptical of the proposed pilot program. Speaking on behalf of the Landmarks Commission, Shari told council members to keep physical training activities away from Palisades Park.
“Staff’s recommendations appear to open up a host of complexities in terms of administration and implementation. Why introduce a trial program that promises to be an enforcement nightmare,” Shari asked. “The favored solution is to keep all organized commercial exercise activities from taking place in Palisades Park.”
Several trainers filled council chambers in support of reaching some amicable terms with City Hall. A few trainers expressed concern of time restrictions, while others seemed more willing to have a flat fee structure in place as opposed to a percentage skimmed off the top of what they earn.
Others said most trainers do everything they can to respect the area’s greenery and keep any noise to a minimum. One trainer told council members a few outliers did exist, but he believed they just needed to be educated of the City’s nuances to preserve the area’s environment.
Parks and Recreation chair Phil Brock, who claimed credit for bringing the private trainer issue to the forefront, spoke to council members about why he was not too happy with individual and group training taking place at places such as Palisades and Clover Parks.
A major concern for Brock: private enterprise profiting off an activity conducted on public land.
“They use the public land illegally,” Brock said of private trainers.
Still, Brock supported a one-year pilot program and suggested the council could revisit the results in 2015 and make a determination then whether more or less regulation were needed.
Council member Ted Winterer asked about hours of operation, code enforcement and policing of violations, and how people could file complaints or concerns.
Winterer also questioned whether the pilot program could be revisited at a council meeting within six months instead of waiting a full year for a status update.
Council member Kevin McKeown asked how City Hall would monitor fees collected by trainers in a primarily cash-based business.
City staff responded they would proactively audit fees collected by trainers. A flat fee could also be administered.
While some during public comment stated Palisades Park is a serene area where private trainers should not be allowed to conduct business, Council member Gleam Davis said the City’s most popular public space is for everyone to use, be it residents, strollers, tourists, or physical trainers.
Davis added she preferred a flat fee system instead of a percentage-based system.
However, likening Palisades Park to “Santa Monica’s front porch,” McKeown said every park has a different purpose and public training does not really have a place at the open space.
“Palisades Park is a very special place. It’s not that it’s elitist. It’s just the nature of that park. There are certain things, if you own a home, that you do in a yard and there’s certain things you do on your front porch,” McKeown said. “Palisades Park, to me, is Santa Monica’s front porch.”
To that effect, McKeown moved to add Palisades Park to the list of parks where instruction was not allowed. A divided council – three in favor and three against – kept McKeown’s motion from moving forward.
McKeown then suggested a one-year moratorium on training uses at Palisades Park. Davis and Winterer said a moratorium would not accomplish anything.
With the council still divided on compromise versus moratorium, City Manager Rod Gould suggested prohibiting training activities each Sunday for one year. The idea caught on, with Council member Tony Vazquez the sole “no” vote.
Mayor Pam O’Connor was not present at the Oct. 8 meeting; it was her second consecutive meeting she was not present.