Wait a minute. Is it the weekend already?
I know, I know, legions of fervent followers of this Curious City column are probably spinning out of control right now, seeing it on a Wednesday and thinking they must have lost half a week somehow.
Chill, guys. Deep breath. Now, stop using your Santa Monica Daily Press as your calendar and trust your smart phone, or your sundial or Mayan rock. It is Wednesday, you just have to adjust to the switch. But the world will go on, the waves will still roll in south and north of our pier, and, gosh, I kind of like it here in the middle of the week.
This column has been residing in the weekend edition of the Daily Press for most of the year, but, here’s the deal: so what? Change is good. And I requested it. I don’t like Mondays, but Wednesday is Friday on my mind. And if Wednesday morning papers didn’t come, call Lady Madonna, not our circulation department. But Art, Paul — not at 3 a.m., OK? (Yes, I like music references, and anyone who got all these, write me, there will be a prize. No Googling!)
If you found this column for the first time — thanks! I hope my humble scribblings about our great little city, teetering nation, the great big world and the unknowable universe will provide some fast food for thought, perhaps gnashed teeth and muttered curses, maybe sometimes a smile.
I’d love to know your thoughts, good, bad and ugly, through a comment at the bottom of the online page, or a letter to the editor or directly to me. You all know lots more than I do, and reader comments have sometimes led me into a future column.
This switch happened at a good time because I wanted to say something — one thing, mostly — about the new ordinance passed by the City Council regulating private trainers doing their for-profit thing in our parks, but there seemed to be an unusual amount of confusion and uncertainty about what exactly happened that night, so I held off.
God knows there has been tons of ink about that ordinance since, and I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, or open old wounds on a dead horse or reinvent the wheel to haul that dead horse away. But here’s what bothered me all along. As I read all the news stories, letters and commentary, I felt there was a first question that wasn’t being asked.
Why is this even an issue? Why should we even consider selling off our precious park space in the first place? Let businesses operate in our parks and force our citizens to deal with it? What are parks for? Aren’t they supposed to be little oases of green and trees where you can get away from your cares and the bustle of the city and just relax and rejuvenate? Meditate and medicate? Can you do that if a fitness boot camp full of over-stimulated drill instructors and their minions is hogging the grass that should be open space, jumping and sprinting, grunting and enthusing all around you? I don’t think so.
I’m not some couch potato curmudgeon who thinks people who love to exercise are in need of mental health services. I’ve walked almost every street in Santa Monica since the beginning of the year, and I love my one-on-one basketball with my buddies. I care about my health, and I care about yours.
But the time and place for group exercise is in a gym, not our parks. Possible exception: if the city starts offering free or low-cost classes, on a very limited basis. Not filling Palisades Park and making the babies cry, not at 6 a.m. and making everyone cry.
I read recently in the National Parks & Recreation Association newsletter that Andy Bass, recreation manager for Reno, Nev., when he became aware of rogue commercial operators in his parks there, decided to co-opt them.
“We went to fitness centers in our city to have them offer free classes” in our parks, he said. “They said ‘What?’” But he persisted and eventually found enough fitness businesses that would volunteer their instructors to run four classes. The fitness clubs get exposure through television and newspaper coverage, which has brought them new customers, he said. Smart.
What we’ve done here is just a giveaway. We used to be called, when I moved here 27 years ago, the People’s Republic of Santa Monica. I’m becoming discouraged that it has now become the Kingdom of Commercial Interests (also, the Developers’ Playground).
We’re near the very bottom among California cities for green space per population. It’s a precious commodity here that many are starting to focus on expanding. That’s a great big fat reason alone to not sell off what little we have to for-profit businesses.
I was curious what the law was before this ordinance came up, so I asked Rec & Parks Commissioner Phil Brock and City Councilman Kevin McKeown. They agreed that there was nothing previously that specifically addressed this issue.
McKeown wrote, “Laws tend not to be written until conflicts arise, and the phenomenon of large numbers of sizable groups doing commercial fitness training in our parks is fairly recent.”
Brock explained that what was previously prohibited was any transaction that involved an exchange of money on the spot. But some trainers got around that, he said, by taking their clients’ money in advance or in cash in the parking lot before the class started.
Brock said he was opposed from the beginning to any such business in our parks, but decided to back a compromise when he saw the council was not going to ban it. But it almost happened: three successive votes by the City Council that night to ban or much more seriously restrict commercial operations failed on a 3-to-3 tie vote. McKeown voted for people over businesses each time, as did Bob Holbrook and Tony Vasquez. I applaud them.
And I keep wondering who most of our City Council members think they represent.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.