Santa Monica City Council. Oct. 22, 2013. Item 7-A. Second Reading and Adoption of an Ordinance Amending Santa Monica Municipal Code (SMMC) Chapter 4.55 Related to Commercial Fitness or Athletic Instruction, Classes or Camps in Parks and the Beach.
The question before the Council: Should commercial fitness classes be allowed in Santa Monica Parks? Top of the list, should they be allowed in Palisades Park?
When the agenda item was called Gleam Davis moved and Pam O’Connor seconded the motion to adopt the Ordinance. Bob Holbrook voted no. Kevin McKeown voted no. Tony Vazquez voted no. Ted Winterer voted yes. Terry O’Day was not present. Under parliamentary rules an ordinance needs four votes to pass. This was a tied 3-3 vote. The Ordinance failed.
That was it. If the City wanted to take up the issue again it would have to be as a new item. Or was it?
About 25 minutes later Council Member McKeown made a procedural motion to reconsider the vote on 7-A. He said, “I’ve decided to pull on my big boy pants and do the right thing. If we do nothing tonight we will not have regulated fitness trainers in any of our parks.”
Council member Holbrook offered an alternative to McKeown’s motion to vote to reconsider the ordinance and instead suggested moving on and enacting regulations regarding commercial fitness training classes in parks as appropriate. He said he planned to put an Item 13 (a Council Member item request) on the next agenda to do just that.
Council Member Vazquez, a consistent opponent of allowing commercial fitness training classes in Palisades Park, recommended letting the failure of the ordinance stand and directing Staff to return with an ordinance regulating commercial fitness classes in appropriate parks and banning them in Palisades Park.
Council member McKeown said, “My desire to protect Palisades Park remains unchanged. But we have to do something because what we see now (with the fitness classes) is the Wild West.”
Council member Davis said, “We have been considering this issue for over a year. All this ordinance calls for is a pilot program (in Palisades Park and regulations for all the parks). Let’s go ahead and see what happens.”
Council member Holbrook stated that a lot had changed in just the last two weeks since the First Reading of the Ordinance. He said many City Commissioners had asked him why the Council was ignoring their advice to ban the commercial fitness classes in Palisades Park.
Holbrook added that all the Neighborhood Organizations had communicated to Council about prohibiting commercial fitness classes in Palisades Park. He also said he’d received a slew of emails asking him to ban the classes in Palisades Park.
“This is the loudest I’ve seen our community since the hedge ordinance,” he said. “It’s a big thing in the City and it’s getting bigger.”
Mayor Pam O’Connor thought it was an age thing.
“It is a difficult decision and we know that there are appropriate uses of different parks,” she said. “But I think this is an age thing. There are a group of younger folks who are into fitness training and they want this and I think we have to change with the times. I think we owe this (to allow fitness trainers in Palisades Park) to our young people.”
With Kevin McKeown’s vote his motion for reconsideration passed and the Ordinance was adopted. Council members Holbrook and Vazquez voted no.
Council members Davis, McKeown, O’Connor, and Winterer voted yes.
In an email sent on Oct. 23, the day after passing the ordinance, McKeown wrote, “The balance here is only one vote… One advantage of my casting my unenthusiastic vote last night is that I’m now on the prevailing side, and have the right to bring the ordinance back for reconsideration, with a clause protecting Palisades Park…. I don’t see any point in my doing that until the community works on that fourth vote. I’ve argued the case as best I could, and failed to sway my colleagues.”
In a letter to the Council dated Oct. 8, 2013, Phil Brock, Chair of the Recreation and Parks Commission, wrote, “Our Commission revisited the issue in May of this year and voted to ask the Council to ban all paid fitness training in Palisades Park. The Commission supported the proposed ordinance detailed in item 7-A in all other Parks in Santa Monica.”
Calling himself a ‘pragmatic optimist’ he went on to say in the letter that he had come to realize that the Council could not be convinced to ban the classes in Palisades Park and so, reluctantly, he would support the proposed Ordinance because it would enact regulations for the classes that would protect other parks.
The Neighborhood Groups: North of Montana Association, Santa Monica Northeast Neighbors, Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition, Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors, and North of Montana Association all signed an open letter to the Council asking the Council to reconsider their decision to allow commercial fitness instruction in Palisades Park.
“Palisades Park is more than a municipal resource. It is a national treasure,” they wrote. It’s America’s gateway to the Pacific, a cherished view corridor that daily welcomes thousands of people, both local residents and visitors from all over the world.
“If the ordinance is enacted as currently written, private businesses will be free to use taxpayer-supported lands as their private fiefs, interfering with the public’s use and enjoyment of the historic lands that make up Palisades Park.
“Under the measure that received provisional approval from the Santa Monica City Council members of the public would be barred from the use of four newly designated “commercial group training zones” (in Palisades Park) for up to 15 hours a day, 6 days a week, from 6 am to 9 pm.”
Adding their voices to the discussion, the Ocean Park Association, Friends of Sunset Park, and the Pico Neighborhood Association wrote to the Council saying, “It is our opinion that all parks, beaches and public areas should not be used for commercial purposes except by special permit for a limited time use that is in the public interest,” they wrote.
“Are Santa Monica taxpayers who maintain and fund new parks expected to make way for commercial business interests in our parks…?”
The Neighborhood Groups listed above represent every neighborhood in the City. Their opinion should be, and historically has been, of utmost importance to the Council.
So what happened? Why the schism between the Council and the Neighborhood Groups, the Commissioners and the hundreds of Santa Monicans who have communicated with the Council directly and the thousand plus who have signed petitions?
This is not about fitness classes. Santa Monica is a place where just about everyone exercises. Santa Monicans jog, ride bikes, go to Yoga classes and NIA dance classes, hire trainers and go to gyms to work out.
This is about the City Parks. This is especially about Palisades Park. The Council has somehow blundered into messing with an icon.
Palisades Park is the first City Park. Originally named Linda Vista because of the great views from the Park, it was a favored promenade of both Arcadia Bandini and Senator Jones.
Palisades Park has a unique plant palette, the gorgeous Arts and Crafts Pergola and is our only Park with a Landmark Designation.
Allowing sections of the park to be set aside for commercial fitness classes is a misunderstanding of how the park has been used historically and how it continues to be used by the hundreds of Santa Monicans and visitors to Santa Monica who come, daily, to Palisades Park.
Santa Monica supports surf camps on the beach, tennis at Ocean View Park, basketball at VAP, softball at Memorial Park, soccer at the Airport Park.
There are also appropriate parks for fitness classes, but not Palisades Park.
Palisades Park is Santa Monica’s only park specifically designed for contemplation and quiet thought. Its linear character naturally supports its original use as a Grand Promenade, a place for leisurely strolls at sunset and for early morning jogging among the beautiful trees and, yes, for the gorgeous views. It’s also a great place to picnic, to meet your friends, a place for children to run and play.
Palisades Park is a place of meaning and memory, of imagery and importance in a way that cannot be said about any other park in Santa Monica. A photo of Palisades Park is synonymous with Santa Monica and is recognized around the world.
At the Council meeting Davis said, “the Council has been working on this matter for over a year.”
Her frustration is understandable. It may be fair to discuss whether people should have communicated their concerns sooner to the Council and/or whether the Council should have gone out into the community earlier. But that is in the past.
Now is the time to show respect to the founders of Santa Monica for their gift to the City and to recognize our responsibility to protect that gift for our benefit and the benefit of residents and visitors of the future.
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