It's official. Council Votes to Allow Commercial Fitness in Palisades Park
You might have thought the parks ordinance went down to defeat on Tuesday. You would have been right. But only briefly.
In a 3-3 tie, the City Council failed to pass the proposed ordinance that allowed commercial fitness trainers in city parks. The proposed ordinance had drawn sharp criticism from a coalition of all the city's seven neighborhood groups, as well as the Recreation & Parks Commission and the Landmarks Commission (see below). Council Members McKeown, Holbrook and Vazquez voted against the measure, with Mayor O'Connor and Council Members Davis and Winterer voting for it. With Council Member Terry O'Day absent, the ordinance appeared to be dead. For a while.
Then about half an hour later, Council member McKeown made a motion to reconsider. By the time it was all over, the parks ordinance permitting commercial training that had died earlier was revived and passed in a 4-2 vote. McKeown's "yes" vote was joined by O'Connor, Winterer and Davis; Opposed were Holbrook and Vazquez. Council Member Terry O'Day was still absent.
McKeown said he strongly opposed commercial training in Palisades Park and termed the ordinance "inadequate," but argued that it was better than nothing in offering some protection to the city's parks. Both Vazquez and Holbrook, who voted against the ordinance, joined McKeown in voicing strong opposition to commercial training in Palisades Park. Vazquez favored asking city staff to redraw the ordinance to include stronger restrictions on trainers in Palisades Park.
Holbrook said he had received an avalanche of complaints from the public on the issue. "I have had my rear end chewed out up one side and down the other about Palisades Park and what we're doing to it with the trainers there, " he said. "I have had leaders of neighborhood organizations saying, 'What is wrong with you people? Aren't you listening?' ... It's been loud. It's been continuous -- it's probably the loudest thing I've heard since the tree issue and shrubbery issues and the fence issue ... it's a big, big thing brewing in the community. It's erupting. All I wanted to do was protect Palisades Park."
Council Member McKeown later sent out an email explaining his actions, which is attached here. See also the analysis of the night's activities by Peggy Clifford at the Santa Monica Dispatch here. The video of the council meeting is on the council's website here. The reconsideration of the parks matter begins at about 4:06.
Many, many thanks to everyone for all your good work on this issue. The neighborhood groups stood united in seeking curbs to commercialism in our parks, and we found out which council members were listening.
The newly approved ordinance takes effect in 30 days. The next phase will likely involve working with the city to monitor the situation, and insisting that enforcement be properly funded and implemented in all city parks. We will share more information as it becomes available.
Neighborhood Groups Ask Council To Reconsider: Ban Fitness Trainers From Palisades Park
The Boards of NOMA,Northeast Neighbors, Wilmont and Mid City Neighbors have joined in calling upon City Council to reconsider its decision to allow commercial fitness trainers to operate profit-making businesses in landmarked Palisades Park.
Our message: "Ban all commercial fitness activity from Palisades Park."
The letter follows here.
TO: The members of the Santa Monica City Council
CC: Media contacts, City Manager, Santa Monica Conservancy, Friends of Palisades Park, Parks and Recreation Commission, Landmarks Commission
FROM: The North of Montana Association; Santa Monica Northeast Neighbors; Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition; Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors;
SUBJECT: Amendment to Chapter 4.55 of the Municipal Code Related to Commercial Fitness at Palisades Park – Council action on October 8, 2013
We are writing to express our extreme disappointment with the City Council’s provisional vote last week to adopt an ordinance that would allow commercial fitness instruction, classes and camps in Palisades Park. We regard commercialization of Palisades Park as a betrayal of the public trust.
Please reconsider your decision.
Palisades Park is more than a municipal resource. It is a national treasure, 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.
More than 120 years ago, Santa Monica founders Sen. John P. Jones and Arcadia Bandini de Baker donated the park for the public’s enjoyment. Ever since then, it has been a treasured and tranquil spot for walking, running, strolling, biking, picnicking, exercising, admiring the sunset and sitting in silent contemplation.
Sadly, Council’s action has soiled that vital legacy. We are now faced with the prospect of city-authorized private businesses using Palisades Park land for profit-making purposes that directly contradict the original intent of our founders. 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 last week, members of the public would be barred from the use of four newly designated “commercial group training zones” for up to 15 hours a day, 6 days a week, from 6 a.m. to 9 pm. And during that time, the quiet beach sounds of breezes and birds that have characterized this precious land from the time of the Tongva and before would be drowned out by loud rock music and the noise of trainers shouting instructions. “Tweet, tweet” would be replaced by “Hut, hut.” Tranquility and silent contemplation would be banished.
Is commercial activity an appropriate use for this precious strip of land? Let us put the question another way. Would it be acceptable to license commercial trainers to hold profit-making classes on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.? Should commercial trainers profit from holding fitness classes in front of the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial? Clearly not. Nor should they be allowed to operate their businesses in Palisades Park.
The argument made before Council, that banning fitness classes in the park would be “elitist,” we think ignores the larger point. We would argue that it is “elitist” to offer prime park enjoyment to those who are fit enough, wealthy enough and athletic enough to participate in organized fitness classes, depriving everyone else of the means to enjoy the park as they desire.
Palisades Park belongs to everyone – not just those who enjoy commercial fitness classes, and those who would profit by using taxpayer-funded land to support their businesses.
Please reconsider your decision.
Ban all commercial fitness activity from Palisades Park.
The Board of Directors, North of Montana Association
The Board of Directors, Santa Monica Northeast Neighbors
The Board of Directors, Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition
The Board of Directors, Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors
Subject: Council Agenda Item 7A – Commercial fitness or athletic classes in City Parks
We are writing to object in the strongest possible terms to the recommendation which comes before you tonight in Agenda Item 7A, which would allow commercial fitness or athletic activities in Palisades Park and other city parks.
As you know, The North of Montana Association has urged rejection of this idea in the past. So have both the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Landmarks Commission.
And now we have learned that the city staff has met and negotiated with the Fitness Trainers Coalition to arrive at this so-called compromise, but not with NOMA or the other above-named commissions.
To say that this is distressing is a vast understatement.
The city staff has failed to include in their talks the very organizations which represent the primary stakeholders here – the residents, voters and taxpayers of our city.
We ask you: How can such a recommendation go forward without the participation of the stakeholders? Why is the staff honoring the wishes of a small but vocal group of fitness or athletic trainers who are conducting profit-making business on City property?
We remain firmly opposed to allowing commercial fitness activities in historic Palisades Park and nearby Goose Egg Park.
We also have grave reservations about the application of this proposed staff recommendation with regard to other city parks. We would be prepared to discuss them with city representatives in the event that a genuine “negotiation” might ever take place.
Among our concerns are the following:
-- Designated areas – The designated areas as proposed put an unfair burden on the North of Montana neighborhood. This is unacceptable.
--Enforceability – We strongly question whether the City can and will enforce these regulations. What is the impact on staffing?
-- Size of classes -- 15 maximum. This is a large group. What is the justification for this number? Has this been driven by the trainer coalition?
--Weight of equipment -- 25 pounds max. What does this mean? 25 pounds per participant? Per class? A 25-pound weight is heavy and will damage turf. Please prohibit all equipment in all city parks, or substantially reduce the weight limit and clarify how that weight limit is determined. Again, Staff recommendation seems to be driven by the trainer coalition. And enforceability will always be an issue.
-- Time restrictions -- 6 am start time. This will place an undue burden of noise and congestion on designated areas that are adjacent to residential areas and apartments. This start time is clearly another response to trainers, not residents.
--Permit fees -- $100/year, 15% of gross receipts per quarter. This seems inadequate to cover the cost of repairing the damage that will surely result from intense park use. What is the justification for $100, vs. $200 or any other amount? What is the enforcement mechanism?
--Education -- Any proposal under discussion should include a requirement that trainers undergo an orientation with regard to the history and features of Palisades Park, emphasizing its importance as a Santa Monica Landmark and the need to protect the features and landscape of this world-class park.
--Anticipated revenue -- Staff's projected revenue source of $63,000 would hardly seem to cover the expenses that the City will incur for administration, enforcement and increased park maintenance for this new program. It is also astonishing to note that the $63,000 to the General Fund has already been included in the adopted 2013-2014 budget, even prior to the adoption of the Staff-recommended program.
In conclusion, we urge you to reject the proposal before you. Do not allow commercial trainers to operate in historic Palisades Park or nearby Goose Egg Park under any circumstances. If further consideration of this matter is merited as regards other city parks, the city must consult with the true stakeholders here: the residents.
The Board of Directors
North of Montana Association
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