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Swami’s surf contest promoter opts to change venues despite green light from council

ENCINITAS — In front of a packed chamber, City Council voted March 10 to allow a proposed special use permit for Swami’s Beach to go through the regular process.
However, less than a week later, the promoter announced her decision to seek another venue. “It’s absolutely the right thing to do,” said world-class surfer and local resident Linda Benson.
Benson read from a prepared statement to a group at the Self Realization Fellowship meditation gardens her motivation for the about face. “My sole reason for this decision is to keep the Self Realization Fellowship safe from any future jeopardy,” she said on March 16.
She denied that her purpose for not proceeding through the special events permit process had anything to do with the mounting opposition to the contest location by some local residents or the logistics of holding a contest at the small venue. “I do not want to risk the future serenity of the Self Realization Fellowship by others who might take advantage of the precedent set by my contest,” Benson said.
Benson thanked those who have supported her efforts to bring the contest to Swami’s and said she is evaluating other options for the contest.
Prior to Benson’s decision, in a unique situation, City Council directed the Parks and Recreation Commission to study the feasibility and collect public input on a possible special events permit at Swami’s Beach.
The commission’s subcommittee could not find any specific reasons not to allow the application of a permit for the Women’s World Longboard Championship, according to chair Doug Goad. He told the council that some of the issues raised by the public included adequate parking for the event, limited beach access and safety. However, Goad said the proposed event received as many supporters as detractors.
Benson had planned a four-day event at Swami’s. The contest would have run from Oct. 14 to Oct. 17 with qualifying rounds on Oct. 13 at Moonlight Beach.
The contest and accompanying festival along K Street were designed to be a community affair, according to Benson.
She told the council that she shared concerns that the contest would set a precedent. Benson suggested one annual event for Swami’s based on merit.
Brother Anilananda, a senior monk at the Self Realization Fellowship, said the organization’s position was not clear. “This is a tricky issue,” he said. “On that particular weekend, we have an event for women,” he said. The retreat is a silent meditation that draws people from 30 countries around the world.
He said one of the fellowship’s main concerns was whether the council was intent to change the historical use of Swami’s. “Who would not want to have there event here?” he asked. “How do you keep it to one (event)?”
He wondered how many events could be approved for the area in a given time period. “We’re willing to work on this one, but we don’t want it to get out of hand,” he said.
Several speakers said they understood both sides of the issue. However, Jenny Flannigan, a local longboarding competitor, said she supported the contest. “I think it’s going to bring an element of positivity to Swami’s and the community that can only bring good things,” she said.
Council members Jerome Stocks and Teresa Barth said they didn’t think the permit would be approved and didn’t see the logic in wasting staff’s resources. Mayor Dan Dalager joined Councilman James Bond and Deputy Mayor Maggie Houlihan in supporting the permitting process. “I’m not comfortable saying it will or it won’t work at this point,” Houlihan said.
City Attorney Glen Sabine agreed with Parks and Recreation Department director Chris Hazeltine that any decision staff makes regarding the surf contest at Swami’s is appealable to City Council.