Every year I have to pay to have a business license for operating my family law office in the city of Santa Monica. Every year the handsome young firemen come by to inspect the office, they tell me I need to refresh my fire extinguisher and then they send me a bill. Every year we write the checks and comply with the regulations.
But some businesses evade the inspectors, ignore the business license invoices and go rogue on the requirements that the city places on them to protect the public. Currently this is happening in the surf schools that are teaching children on the public beaches.
I learned about this when my friend Allen King of Aqua Surf School wanted to talk to me about the situation he’s been facing for years now. His company complies with the city requirements for licensing, additional insurance, training of staff on emergency procedures and pays the 15-percent user fee that the city charges Aqua Surf School for the privilege of using the beach. That is 15 percent of every dollar he earns, off the top, in addition to the renewal fees for beach license of $250.
According to King, “Other surf schools are using our beaches but not complying with the local regulations. They don’t have employees, they use contractors to avoid paying taxes and insurance.”
That becomes a safety issue when it comes to training and protocols. Employees have to be trained, but they also have to be paid to be trained; using contractors avoids that.
So how does King know that there are these pirate schools?
The city put out a Request for Proposal that had lifeguard-approved requirements for the schools to have shade tents for the kids, color-coded rash guards to identify students and teachers, and safety protocols.
“It’s easy to spot the schools that are not complying,” King said. “They don’t have tents, they don’t have color-coded rash guards. We do.”
What’s the big deal here? It’s this: Since the city has regulations in place, and itmakes good companies like Aqua Surf School comply, shouldn’t itcrack down on the ones who are not complying? I’d like to think so.
Making some companies comply while allowing others to avoid regulation is a fundamentally unfair situation. In order for King to legally run his business he must comply with the city’s requirements, but until the city does an audit of all the schools — the same way they cracked down of personal trainers in parks — the situation will continue.
Lack of enforcement gives a false of security to parents by having regulations for schools and then not enforcing them. It creates a risk to the city that an accident can happen to a student at a pirate school and the city could be sued for vicarious liability if they are not protecting the public against a known risk.
The problem with selective enforcement is that it breeds doubt — doubt about the system that allows it, doubt about the integrity of the inspectors and administrators, doubt about why I should pay my business license fee if others aren’t going to.
King has been trying to get the city to enforce itsown regulations for over a year now; that’s two summers’ worth. The foot-dragging by the pirate operators and the lackluster enforcement by the city is a situation that needs to come to an end.
I’m calling on the city to perform an audit of all the surf schools on the beach and to shut down those that are not compliant with our current regulations. They need to do it to protect our city, and to do it for the children.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in fathers’ and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969. Follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.