ON THE GO: Justin Sardo (right) leads the Santa Monica Youth Running Club down the median on San Vicente Boulevard. The group also uses Palisades Park for its training classes. (File photo)

ON THE GO: Justin Sardo (right) leads the Santa Monica Youth Running Club down the median on San Vicente Boulevard. The group also uses Palisades Park for its training classes. (File photo)

CITY HALL — Fitness trainers are going to have to shell out some cash if they want to continue using public parks to hold their classes.

An ordinance approved Tuesday night by the City Council introduces new regulations and permit fees for trainers. Use of Palisades Park, which was at the center of the debate, was restricted more heavily than other parks.

The ordinance, which introduces a one-year pilot program, banned training on Sunday at Palisades Park and established four fitness zones within the park to reduce overuse in other areas.

City officials had initially recommended a pecentage-based permit fee, but council amended the ordinance to a flat fee suggested by Jeff Jordan, a local trainer, during the public comment portion of the meeting. Council approved Jordan’s proposed fees, which he’d heard from another trainer based in a small suburb outside of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Annual permits for one-on-one training at all but two of the approved parks cost $1,800. Groups of three to 10 pay $3,600 and groups of 11 or more pay $5,400. Costs at Palisades Park are increased by 50 percent to reflect the park’s high demand. Permit costs at Reed Park are halved in an attempt to encourage use. Reed Park is a known homeless hangout.

Erin Dick, head of the Santa Monica Outdoor Fitness Coalition, said that a decision to switch to flat fees and to increase those flat fees for Palisades Park was a rash, uncalculated decision. Fees for Palisades trainers will cost $2,700, $5,400, and $8,100 for the various group sizes.

“What happened last night in Council Chambers has effectively banned fitness training at Palisades Park,” she said. “I believe it happened because nobody on council, in the three seconds, did the math to realize the implications of what they were voting on.”

Raisa Lilling, owner of Fit4Mom Santa Monica and member of the Outdoor Fitness Coalition, said she will continue to train in the park, but that she will have to change her business model.

“It feels like the last 60 seconds of that meeting was a complete reversal of all the nice things everyone said about us,” she said.

City officials studied data from business licensees and found that the average trainer makes about $40,000 per year.

“Charging trainers — who make very little money — what essentially amounts to 20 percent of their revenue, just priced every single trainer out of Palisades,” Dick said.

Karen Ginsberg, director of Community and Cultural Services, said that officials had not discussed those specific flat-rate numbers before the meeting. A flat-rate fee recommended by city officials would have been based on percentages of the estimated $40,000 annual salary.

“Those numbers put forward by the trainer, Jeff, that seemed off-the-cuff, or on the fly … were in that range,” she said.

Some of the Palisades Park fees were above that range, she said.

Trainers did express a desire for flat-rate fees during the public comment portion of the meeting and Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day said after the meeting that the switch was a response to these comments. The increase at Palisades Park, he said, was a reflection of the original city staff report, which suggested a 50 percent increase in permit fees for Palisades Park.

“I saw some unhappy faces when folks were leaving the room on that particular topic,” he said, “And I was somewhat surprised because it was simply mirroring what was in the staff report, but switching over to flat fees.”

O’Day said that changing the fees would not be easy.

“I think that if this is a serious concern for the city then we should hear about it,” he said. “The rationale that I described seems to me to be reasonable. I’m not sure that people have thought it through in that way.”

The ordinance limits Palisades Park to 20 group trainer permits. If more than 20 trainers apply for permits, a lottery will determine who gets to use the park. Many of the 25 people who spoke during the public portion of the meeting voiced fears that popular veteran group-trainers would lose out on the lottery.

Palisades Park is limited to groups of 15 participants or fewer.

The audience, consisting mostly of trainers and clients but also some groups opposed to fitness in the park, grew tense as Councilman Kevin McKeown changed his mind and proposed an amendment to the ordinance that would have banned trainers at Palisades Park. Councilmen Bob Holbrook and Tony Vazquez followed suit, but council members Ted Winterer, Gleam Davis, and O’Day opposed the amendment. Mayor Pam O’Connor was not present at the meeting and the motion failed.

McKeown then proposed a one-year moratorium on Palisades Park and the council responded in the same way.

“I just think Palisades Park is a very special place,” McKeown said. “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. And Palisades Park, to me, is Santa Monica’s front porch.”

Finally, City Manager Rod Gould suggested the Sunday ban, which was agreed upon by all members except Vazquez, who opposed passage of the ordinance.

The ordinance goes into effect in January and will last one year before being reevaluated. City officials will brief the council on the observed results of the ordinance halfway through the year.

 

dave@smdp.com

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