PALISADES PARK — A group of personal trainers and their clients has gone on the public relations offensive in an attempt to win looser regulations on training activities in local parks and beaches.
The Santa Monica Outdoor Fitness Coalition is a group of seven trainers representing 450 clients that use parks and beaches to run for-profit fitness classes.
They take issue with proposed regulations put forward by the Recreation & Parks Commission that would require trainers to pay up to 15 percent of their revenues for the ability to use certain parks and local beaches for training classes.
The commission also recommended that trainers purchase a special permit, costing roughly $100, provide liability release waivers to clients and potentially show personal training certifications, said Karen Ginsberg, director of the Community & Cultural Services Department.
The proposal would come on top of existing requirements that trainers have insurance, business license and police permit.
Stiffer fees would not mean extra space, however. Under the proposal, trainers would lose the ability to conduct group classes in parks with less open space, and instead be restricted to one-on-one or one-on-two training sessions in certain parks.
Coalition members believe the proposal, which is expected to go to the City Council in late March, will hurt the trainers, park security and even the local economy, said Erin Dick, spokesperson for the coalition.
“We really think that the city is trying to do the right thing,” Dick said. “What we think is the people who have the best knowledge of how to use the parks are the people using it every single day.”
The extra fees and permits wouldn’t solve the problems that the commission raised, including noise caused by trainers, damage to the grass and the excessive number of fitness buffs in the park preventing others from walking or otherwise enjoying the scenery, she said.
Instead of the extra cash, the coalition recommends a fitness-related community service requirement, like a monthly bootcamp open to the public, or an advisory committee to the Recreation & Parks Commission to help with the trainers.
“That will produce a tangible benefit to the city,” Dick said.
Phil Brock, chair of the commission, doesn’t share her view.
“Citizens of Santa Monica should not subsidize trainers’ business model,” Brock said.
He likened the trainers to food trucks that park near restaurants, in this case siphoning business from gyms with promises of cheaper rates since they avoid paying rent.
Owners of brick-and-mortar gyms pay a pretty penny to stay in business in Santa Monica. Kelly Blackwin is co-owner of Fitness Together, a small gym on Fifth Street that specializes in one-on-one and small class training formats.
Rent alone can consume between 20 and 25 percent of monthly revenues, Blackwin said, and the pie only gets smaller after insurance, permits, licenses and staff salaries.
“It’s expensive,” Blackwin said. “There’s a lot of overhead, especially with our location being in Santa Monica.”
The cost gave pause to Logan Gelbrich, a Santa Monica native who came back to the city after a professional baseball career and tried to open a gym. He couldn’t find a reasonably-priced spot that met city requirements, and set up shop on the bluffs.
He just signed a lease for a gym in Venice, having given up on finding a suitable location in Santa Monica.
“I’m not one of the trainers choosing to be outside over inside,” Gelbrich said. “It’s just impossible to open a gym.”
Although he doesn’t like the idea of a 15 percent fee, Gelbrich said he would support it if it kept the door open for outside training.
“Santa Monica is the historic home of fitness, and the most difficult place to do business in the fitness industry,” he said.
While City Hall is not necessarily in the business of protecting brick-and-mortars, it does have an interest in keeping its facilities shipshape.
That can be difficult to regulate when it comes to outdoor trainers, Brock said.
Although it’s against existing policy to attach workout equipment to trees, for instance, trainers do it regularly, causing damage to the trees.
Trying to enforce the free community classes put forward by the coalition would be near impossible, he said.
“We’d literally have to hire someone in the city to go out and enforce that,” Brock said. “The object is to reduce time and effort, use common sense and avoid the work.”
For some, the increase in trainer sprawl has become more than a nuisance.
Gloria Keeling, 79, had a run-in with a training class near Idaho Avenue that left her with a black-eye and an emergency room visit.
She was walking down a path at 7:20 a.m. when a fitness group came running. Keeling tried to get out of the way, but her pants got caught on a chain link fence and sent her sprawling.
Her knee and face took the worst of it, Keeling said.
“It was inevitable that something like this would happen,” Keeling said.
She’s not against classes in general — Keeling herself has been in the physical training business for decades, and still does work with older adults. Having the classes in a narrow space like Palisades Park, however, is a disaster, she said.
“The people I have to respond to and we need to care about are our citizens,” Brock said. “The citizens who live near Palisades Park are almost unanimously opposed to trainers there. They want their park back.”