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Encinitas to regulate surf schools

ENCINITAS — City Council voted to join a host of beach towns that regulate surf schools when it unanimously passed an ordinance Oct. 8. The pilot program will take effect next summer.
During its Aug. 20 meeting, City Council directed staff to craft an ordinance regulating surf schools and other businesses that utilize the city’s parks and beaches. After receiving numerous complaints about local beaches overrun by surf school participants, city staff proposed placing restrictions on so-called commercial-use activities held on public parks and beaches.
Chris Hazeltine, director of Parks and Recreation, responded to the council’s direction to staff during the annual goal setting session in January 2008 to review the city’s policies regarding commercial uses on parks and beaches with a proposed regulation.
Staff member Mike Stauffer noted a growing trend among cities in regulating use of commercial use of municipal grounds. He told the council that the increased restrictions in neighboring cities have driven commercial operators into Encinitas.
“Commercial operators are coming to Encinitas beaches because Encinitas beaches are the only ones without restrictions,” Stauffer said. Rules governing surf schools and camps exist in nearby Carlsbad and San Elijo state beaches as well as San Diego and Del Mar. Solana Beach does not allow commercial use of its beaches.
Stauffer said the staff found 14 surf schools advertising operations on the city’s beaches. In addition, fitness classes, yoga instruction and personal training sessions take place regularly at area parks and beaches.
The new ordinance relates only to surf schools. The council asked staff to come back with more information on other types of businesses that use beaches and parks for commercial use at a later date.
Each business will compete for one out of nine permits to use limited space at the following beaches: Swami’s, D Street, Moonlight, north of the lifeguard tower at Beacon’s, Grandview and South Ponto. Each site holds a maximum number of students and must be specifically requested by the business applying for the permit.
The permit extends from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Stauffer said no regulations exist outside of the “high impact” summer months.
Councilman Dan Dalager said the regulations will help preserve the beaches. “We really like our freedom but you need a little bit of control,” he said.
Whether fewer novice surfers will crowd the city’s beaches next summer is unlikely according to some. “The camps will raise the prices and just find some way to get around the process,” Leucadia resident Jim Towers said. “On one hand I think it’s silly to make people jump through so many hoops to teach people how to surf,” he said. “But on the other hand, there are too many schools taking up parking and beach space with what amounts to a day care service.”
Businesses will pay the city $5 per student per day. The fees could add an additional $30,000 to $120,000 a year to city coffers. Staff members said the money could be used to pay for beach-related expenses such as lifeguards, public parking, restrooms and general beach improvements. Surf schools will only be allowed to operate between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday — holidays and weekends are off limits.
Encinitas-based businesses will have priority over out-of-town surf camps. The city-run surf camp currently operates out of the north Moonlight Beach location. Stauffer said that site was not part of the nine sites up for grabs by other businesses. “The city’s site is separate from the process,” he said.
Businesses will be evaluated using a number of criteria including the number of students, impact on parking at the location, whether instructors are certified and the business is insured. The council will review the program after one year.
Councilwoman Teresa Barth said she supported the measure because the beach should be accessible to everyone. “We have to learn to manage the impacts as the beaches become more crowded,” she said. “I want everyone to enjoy the beach.”