PALISADES PARK — After 10 months of enforcement, city officials say the controversial ordinance that restricts the usage of public parks for outdoor fitness training had its intended effect but could use some tweaks.
They proposed some changes to the ordinance — a one-year pilot program that expires in January — including a move toward revenue-based fees for trainers, rather than a flat rate.
The Recreation and Parks Commission recommended that council keep the flat fees but charge additional fees for those who exceed the base rate. The commission reviewed the ordinance on Thursday.
“I think our commission comes down solidly on the fact that revenue is not our first and foremost concern,” said Recreation and Parks Chair Phil Brock. “Our first and foremost concern is not only the landscape and preservation of our parks but also limiting any type of private commercial ventures in public parks. So we felt that the experimental program actually worked well. It lessened the impact from the trainers, especially in Palisades Park.”
January through September, there were 5,388 fitness training hours logged at the parks with more than 2,000 of those hours at Palisades Park.
Trainers had initially said that annual fees at Palisades Park, which ranged from $2,700 for small groups to $8,100 for large groups, were too high and effectively banned training at that park.
City officials note that there was no limit on the number of trainers who could work under a single permit, so while there were 26 permits approved this year, there were, at times, 74 trainers working in the parks.
City officials recommend capping that at five trainers per permit, plus the person who takes out the permit.
They also recommend doing away with the flat rate and charging trainers a percentage of their revenues.
At Palisades Park, it would be 15 percent of the annual revenues. At Reed Park, which has become a hangout for the homeless, the rate would be 5 percent of revenues. At all the other parks and the beach, the rate would be 10 percent of the revenues.
“Seven permit holders voluntarily provided their gross revenue information to the City during 2014,” city officials said, “and for these seven permit holders, the flat rate use charge equated to between 8 (percent) and 83 (percent) of their reported gross revenues.”
The Recreation and Parks Commission recommended that the flat fees remain, with one caveat.
“Every quarter, the trainers will be required to submit their gross sales and if their gross sales exceed the equivalent in the amount of the licensing fee then they will have to pay a percentage on top,” Brock said.
The commission, he said, thought that a percentage-only fee would be a recipe for abuse of the system.
City Hall collected nearly $100,000 from the permits this year.
“Changing the use charge to a percent of gross revenue would reduce the use charge amount paid by some permit holders, but increase the amount paid by others, potentially balancing out,” city officials said in their report to the commission.
Between the start of the program and Oct. 31, there were 50 complaints made to the Code Compliance department, city officials said. Only 13 of those complaints have been recorded since July 1.
There were 35 cases opened and three resulted in fines.
The commission also recommended that start time for trainers at Palisades Park be pushed back an hour, to 7 a.m.
“That will at least give the Ocean Avenue neighborhood an extra hour to sleep,” Brock said.
They also asked for limitations to the weekend use of Virginia Avenue Park.
Landscaping results were mixed at Palisades Park. The four zones where trainers were supposed to hold classes show more wear and tear than the other parts of the park.
“Public Landscape staff reported a decline in the New Zealand Christmas trees (Metrosideros Excelsus) located between Montana and Palisades Avenues which may be attributed to training that takes place under the canopy of these trees and the related compaction,” city officials said. “In the areas north of Marguerita Avenue where commercial fitness instruction is not permitted, staff reports that there has been significant improvement in the condition of the turf.”
Overall, city officials say that less fitness training is occurring in the parks.
“Complaints have drastically decreased since implementation,” they said. “And the permit program has been successful in requiring commercial instructors to carry insurance, obtain a Santa Monica business license, reduce impacts on neighbors and park users, and compensate the City for commercial use of public land.”
City Council will have the final say on the ordinance, likely in January. They will take into account recommendations from city officials and the Recreation and Parks Commission.