Beach Ambassador Program regulates on-the-water commerce
by Sebastian Ruiz
Aug 30, 2006 | 1041 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By the beginning of next summer, the city will have earned more than $236,000 issuing permits to various surf schools and camps operating along the coast, including sites operated by surf shops in Ocean Beach, according to a City of San Diego Manager's Report released last November.

Since 2004, the Beach Ambassador Program has regulated businesses that operate on the shoreline by collecting 10 percent of the gross revenue from each after a permit is issued. There are currently 10 permitted groups participating in the program.

According to Chanelle Barry, policy analyst for Councilman Scott Peters, most of the participants are on-the-water enterprises offering surf lessons or beach activities for a fee.

Last year, the program earned about $121,000, all of it earmarked to go back into enforcement. So far this fiscal year, which began July 1, the program has raked in $16,660, said Teresa Mulligan, Park and Recreation supervising management analyst.

The ambassador program is designed to control the chaos and safety hazards created by the influx of beach businesses. Two ambassadors from the Lifeguard Service are responsible for monitoring the various surf camps, surf schools and the boat launch area in La Jolla. Currently there is one ambassador seven days a week, eight hours a day, in the Mission Beach and Pacific Beach areas, and another ambassador at La Jolla Shores who helps regulate the kayak and boat launch, according to Marine Safety Captain Rick Wurts.

The overuse of a public resource that everyone should be able to enjoy prompted the city to begin issuing permits to various surf camps and schools. Surf Diva was one of two commercial entities given permission to operate in La Jolla Shores.

The review process for a three-year permit included a formal application more than 100 pages long, according to Surf Diva CEO and founder Isabelle "Izzy" Tihanyi.

"They wanted to make sure they got the best [surf school] operator," Tihanyi said. "You had to come in with recommendations and they wanted to know what we do for the community at large."

The program also requires the surf schools meet minimum safety requirements, which eases the burden on lifeguards by ensuring the participants get safe, reliable lessons Wurts said. One requirement surf schools must adhere to is limiting the number of people they can take out into the water at any one time.

The tighter regulations have improved the overcrowding of unauthorized surf schools at the beaches. These regulations keep the beaches as available to the general public as possible, Wurts said.

"If we just let everybody out there who wants to try and teach surf lessons, then all of a sudden you have beaches that are full of various business and companies trying to utilize a limited public resource," Wurts said. "By creating this permit process, we identify specific individual companies who will operate specific areas and thereby providing us an opportunity to manage the overall beach resource that is open to the public."

The success of the program could lead to its expansion, including a year-round program and additional staff, Barry said. In the coming years, other instructional companies, such as kayaking and scuba-diving schools, could be included into the program, which would limit the number of those types of commercial businesses at the beaches and could result in driving down competition prime beach spots for instruction.

John Metzger, owner and operator of OEX Dive and Kayak Centers in La Jolla and Mission Bay, said he expects to be required to request a permit in the near future.

So far, the ambassadors, or lifeguards, have been a tremendous help down at the busy boat launch, Metzger added.

The long-term impact of the ambassador program has yet to be fully realized. The response, so far, is one of overwhelming support from local surf schools and residents concerned about overcrowding, Wurts said.

But consumers will be the ones fishing for change if the limited competition results in higher prices, leaving them diving into their wallets just to take a dip in the ocean.
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