Public Spaces Are Exactly That

Saturday, 4 May 2013, 8:56:00 AM

Steve Stajich

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

The City has heard the uplifted voices of exercise instructors and, for now, agreed to try and find harmony between what public spaces should be and a desire on the part of fitness trainers to use Santa Monica parks to – I’m sorry everybody – conduct business.  

Council members directed City staff to put together an ordinance that would effectively serve as a middle ground.  

There should be recognition of the fact that the Council has proved to be responsive and mend a rift that existed between City Hall and private trainers.

From The Mirror’s reporting: “Both sides were at odds about how much the City could collect from a trainer’s gross revenue, the size of classes offered, and the use of heavy weights. City Hall had considered possibly banning all fitness classes larger than two people at Palisades Park and prohibiting the use of heavy weights. With the council’s recommendations Tuesday night, some heavy equipment may now be allowed on-site.  Group classes may also be offered in addition to individual instruction. An agreement may also be reached with respect to the amount of money City Hall would collect from the private trainers. A permit system may also be put into effect.”

There are nine parks where private fitness instruction would not be allowed: Ashland Park, Euclid Park, Goose Egg Park, Joslyn Park, Muscle Beach Park, Ozone Park, Pacific Street Park, Park Drive Park, and Schader Park. And use of public spaces in Santa Monica for activities where money presumably changes hands have long included tennis and surf instructions, and are already regulated by City Hall.

So, what’s my problem?  

I feel as though the “middle ground” with the trainers is destined to become an expansion of the parameters of “use” for public spaces that will lead us into temptation, frankly.  

Let me ask a few questions of any parties currently involved in the dust-up over all this:  If trainers can lead classes for which they are paid in public parks, is there any reason the Girl Scouts shouldn’t be there at least two days a week selling cookies for their non-profit organization? You say the Scouts are soliciting money? What if I ask a trainer for a business card? Okay, fine.

Now if the Girl Scouts can be there, shouldn’t any legitimate non-profit be able to vend goods for fund raising there?  Say, for example, the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee.

And if are we going to let the Nativity folks sell their cookies, the surfaces of which may or may not depict certain scenes from the Bible, then why aren’t they allowed to display their Nativity scenes in the park at Christmas?

The short answer is that we struggled with all that already. But the longer view, perhaps, is that we are giving private small businesses (training and trainers) what they want and we’ll be presented with a bill of sorts down the road.  

By radio, that nutty old-school media, I heard some of the statements made during the public comments before the City Council regarding the training in parks.  There was plenty said about how fitness should be a value in the life of citizens, and that having fit fitness folks doing their fitness in a public space reinforced good public, uh, fitness.  

Now consider this statement: “Life moves so fast now. Nothing is permanent. It stops working, you throw it out, “it” being anything from the washing machine to the husband. We are impatient for the new and the past is so quickly forgotten. But there is one trend that is like a mini-revolution against change. A commitment. A statement. A reminder of who you are and were.”   

That statement is by Nicole McInnnes, and she’s writing about tattoos. So if we believe tattoos demonstrate commitment and that they reflect who and what we are similar to how we want to be fit and have fitness be who we are, then I guess it would only be fair to allow tattoo artists with battery or solar-powered ink devices to ‘work out’ right next to the trainers in our parks. In both cases, families visiting a public park in Santa Monica would get some clear messages about values.

Of course with both the Nativity folks and the tattoo enthusiasts I’m only conjecturing based upon a sense that there’s a door standing open right now. A public space is just that; for use and enjoyment by the public. The minute we introduce commerce, whether it’s the direct commerce of paid training sessions or the presence of advertising disguised as something else (“Free Beach Maps… Courtesy of Yak-Yak Cell Phones!”) we are changing the parameters of “use” and “enjoyment.”   

Bottom line: I do think people ought to work out and be fit in parks if they want.  I just wish it was that.  It’s not: They’re conducting business.

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