For more than a year, City Council has wrestled with physical training classes in city parks, especially Palisades Park.

Our parks have become a hot commodity for athletic trainers who charge to conduct commercial fitness classes — ranging from “new mommies” to martial arts.

Palisades Park has become so popular that complaints from users about overbearing professional trainers have dramatically increased. Ocean Avenue residents complain that early morning noise generated by training activity wakes them up and disturbs their peace.

On Oct. 8, council took its first crack at an ordinance to regulate or terminate the whole practice. Its intention was to establish a one-year pilot program to allow private training in only certain park areas, require permits for trainers and limit them to 20, restrict groups to 15 participants or less and set hours for professional training, among other measures.

On Oct. 22, during the second reading of the ordinance, Mayor Pam O’Connor and council members Kevin McKeown, Ted Winterer and Gleam Davis supported the ordinance. Councilmen Tony Vazquez and Bob Holbrook opposed it. Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day was absent.

The ordinance itself is riddled with errors, omissions and loopholes. It may make the whole problem of allowing professional trainers in the parks even more onerous. It appears that nobody on City Council or staff bothered to read it before it was voted on. I was tipped off about the ordinance’s problems by attorney Stanley Epstein. Yep, the very Stanley Epstein who recently sued City Hall on the way it mishandled parking ticket appeals and won.

The new ordinance becomes effective on Nov. 21. It states (4.55.030 (a)) that a city permit is required to train clients. But, they will not be issued, by lottery or otherwise, until Jan 1.  What happens in the period from Nov. 21 to Jan. 1?  Is City Hall going to enforce regulations and stop all group training for six weeks?

Section 4.55.030(b) gives the Director of Community and Cultural Affairs (currently Karen Ginsberg) authority to “promulgate regulations implementing this Section, addressing the authorization system, permit types, requirements and methods of issuance, indemnification and proof of insurance, limits on locations, hours and group size restriction and other regulations as needed, to implement this authorization system …” but doesn’t require the “Director” to do so.

Most importantly, there’s nothing in the ordinance itself limiting the number of permits and no authority is provided to Ginsberg to limit them either. Therefore, City Hall would be acting illegally if any limit were imposed, or lottery held. For example, 35 trainers apply for a permit and 20 are granted. The remaining 15 trainers could each bring suit (or a class action) requesting an injunction and compensation for loss of income. I wonder if City Attorney Marsha Moutrie realizes that taxpayers will pay damages and expenses arising out of the sloppy drafting of the ordinance.

Training hours (beginning 6 a.m. versus 8 a.m., for example) and group size are also at the whim of the Director of Cultural and Community Services and not specified in the ordinance.

Another violation of council and public wishes is in Section 4.55.130, which bars exercise equipment weighing more than 25 pounds but requires the director to authorize the use of heavier equipment unless she/he can prove such equipment will damage public property. If the director can’t, heavier athletic equipment must be permitted, even though there was no council discussion whatsoever about allowing equipment exceeding 25 pounds.

Amplification, public address systems, whistles, bullhorns and boom-boxes are all to be prohibited but there’s nothing in the ordinance about them and the director has no express or implied power to regulate their use

There’s nothing in the ordinance that gives City Hall the authority to assess damage and collect reimbursement for repairs and investigative costs except by bringing a separate criminal action to recoup these monies resulting from destruction or defacing of park foliage or facilities.

Other unresolved issues include who is issued the permit? The trainer?  The trainer’s assistants? If a class is conducted by a corporation or franchisee, who obtains the permit — the corporation or trainer?

All these mistakes can be corrected easily by speedy ordinance amendments, but will City Hall leaders want to reopen this fiasco and deal further with a very unhappy citizenry? I doubt it.

I e-mailed Karen Ginsberg for a response and she replied, “There is no reason to believe that the rules which are currently being finalized would stray from the council directions.”  While Ginsberg may do the right thing, there’s nothing preventing future directors from changing the rules. Moreover, her response was incomplete and doesn’t change any of the conclusions I’ve raised.

It appears that the whole subject of how our parks are used has been met with indifference and shoddy work. For as much as we all pay for municipal government, we’re sure not getting our money’s worth.

Worse yet, the people we elect to govern us on City Council are either asleep at the wheel or don’t give a damn.

Councilman Winterer, for example, has been taking flak from all the neighborhood groups who vigorously oppose “selling out” our parks to commercial users.

After receiving much support from these organizations in last fall’s election, he cast the deciding vote against excluding professional training from Palisades Park. Neighborhood activists view his action as a big slap in the face and it could cost him their backing in the future.

What a mess.

 

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com