“There’s definitely a lot of commercial use of the beach with surf camps and kayak rentals and tours, scuba, day-at-the-beach and boogie board camps, people coming down in large groups,” said LJSA chairwoman Audrey Keane. “They add an incredible burden. There’s a huge usage of the beach, and a disproportionate use of the beach [by user groups] without a lot of money spent on the beach. There’s not enough money going in to maintain it, and we’ve got to get this back into balance.”
The city’s request for permit (RFP) process, which licenses and taxes beach business operators like surf camps and kayak operators, is what needs to be changed, said entre-preneur Rod Watkins, who told the LJSA board he had the first marine kayak business in San Diego but got out once government regulation was enacted.
“I’d have no problem paying those fees if they were reasonable,” Watkins said. “But I had to shelve my kayak business. They put small operators out of business. There were 14 to 16 operators and now there are four. My point is, not a penny of that [user fee] money comes back to La Jolla Shores.”
Several diving enthusiasts turned out at the meeting to request that an agenda item calling for establishment of a committee to develop “consistent, fair policy for all commercial vendors, including surf camps, kayak rentals and tours, SUP rentals, scuba and similar users” be continued because many scuba operators were out of town attending an industry business convention.
Divers were asked by the LJSA board if they agreed scuba operations have a huge impact on Kellogg Park.
“Yes, but skateboarders and bicyclists and others have a bigger impact because they really don’t care,” said diver Al Blake.
In agreement, Watkins said the small-business community that operates in and around the Shores is generally more interested than other users in the maintenance and upkeep of the area.
“I would love to pay La Jolla Shores Association to keep a beach account where fees could go directly to the beach for the benefit of the local diving community and the smaller operators, the people really not into raping, pillaging and plundering the beach who have an interest in it,” said Watkins.
Keane assured Watkins the board is “taking information to come up with something constructive.”
“Sounds like you want to be on the committee,” she said to Watkins.
Keane had one caveat, however.
“We don’t have the power to get rid of RFPs,” she said.
Shores surf camp operator Isabelle “Izzy” Tihanyi noted that, despite impositions on business operators, the RFP regulation process has led to improvements in safety standards.
“There’s control over who uses the beach, and the city listens,” Tihanyi said. “Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but if we can find a way to keep those [user] funds along the coastline … it would be worth every penny.”
Baker wondered what, if any, considerations would be given to groups that drive customers to other Shores businesses.
“Where do you set your fees?” he asked, noting his trade benefits other businesses in the community. “I bring people in, make sure they spend money in the businesses around here.”
Keane noted that charging fees wouldn’t be the solution to all the issues plaguing the Shores.
“Charging fees is one thing, but setting down the rules, that will fix the problem. The fees don’t,” she said.
Keane agreed at the end of the discussion to postpone a group vote on forming a committee on beach commercialization — which she said will be open to members of the dive community, as well — until the group’s next meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
In other action:
• Area parks manager Mark Muncey addressed the advisory group asking for suggestions for items to be included in the city’s “unfunded list” addressing needs and proposing improvements in local parks for the future. LJSA board members agreed to place a gazebo or picnic area in Laureate Park and a playground at Cliffridge Park on that list.
• LJSA board will hold its annual elections in March 2013. Some boardmembers are terming out, including chairwoman Keane and Terry Kraszewski. To serve on the board, an individual must live, work or own property in La Jolla Shores.