Backlash Grows Over Private Clubs Use of Public Beaches

by on September 29, 2014 · 10 comments

in Culture, Environment, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego

PB Palisades Park

Palisades Park in PB

Originally published Sept. 29, 2014

The backlash is growing – the backlash against the  use of our public beaches and coast areas by private clubs who host work-outs, volleyball games and yoga classes.  About a week ago, the U-T published an article entitled, “Residents Cry Foul at Beach Courts’ Access” – how Carlsbad residents and beach-goers are complaining about a private volleyball club agreement with the state that gives their members priority on volleyball courts.

This echoes a “reader rant” just this summer here on the OB Rag about how a surf school takes too much space on the beach as well as in the ocean. The writer’s complaints about lack of access and safety issues found a lot of resonance among the commenters.

From my own personal experience, I occasionally bike on the Mission Beach Boardwalk and take it all the way to the “grassy knoll” at the foot of Law Street in PB called Palisades Park, a beautiful spot, with benches on grass overlooking the Pacific and sand far below. A couple of years ago, I noticed a small group of people doing yoga on one corner of the park – I smiled – it was cute. I used to do yoga and found it really helped me.

A month ago, on a weekend, I took the Boardwalk bike ride and pedaled over to the grassy knoll for my customary break before moving on. Much to my surprise, just about the entire park had been taken over by that small cute group of people doing yoga.  I was aghast – there was hardly any space left for anyone else.  I counted – there were literally 200 people on mats.  The guy running it had to yell his commands out – and the folks over by my edge of the park surely couldn’t hear him very well.

This is not right, I thought. Where’s Turko and Files? Does this guy have a contract, a lease with the City Parks and Rec? I don’t know and never found out.

But the problem is not on Palisades Park, or on the sands of OB, or up in Carlsbad – it’s all over Southern California, where private gyms, work-out instructors, yoga-operators are increasingly taking their clients – who are usually charged a fee – out onto our public beaches and hilltop parks overlooking the ocean.

Just about a year ago, I wrote a report on the growing trend:

Throughout Southern California, from LA to OB, parks and beaches have been experiencing an influx of organized joggers or people exercising. Personal trainers are taking their classes out doors to public beaches and parks, to take advantage of the great weather.  Every public beach has seen its swarm of organized  fitness groups using the public space – at times – for a private profit.

There is a push-back happening. Local residents at different beach cities have taken issue with the group fitness classes.  And they’re complaining about the human traffic jams in parks and on beaches enjoyed and appreciated for their beauty, solitude, nature-setting, etc.

Up in Santa Monica, the city is dealing with what it calls “fitness fanatics” in its Palisades Park, right on the ocean.  The park has become a giant outdoor gym on most days with stunning ocean views.  This  has become a problem for local residents, whose complaints have been heard in City Hall. The city is talking about cracking down  on the fitness craze, and officials are putting together guidelines to regulate trainers who use public parks and beaches for their classes, which could result in higher fees.

The LA Times reports that:

Even some personal trainers admit that the scene at Palisades Park has gotten out of control. Although some trainers and boot camp operators have city permits and insurance, there are unlicensed instructors there as well.  The city estimated that in a single week in October, 73 group fitness classes and 74 private classes were held in Palisades Park. Trainers estimate that hundreds of people are served by a few dozen instructors.

Push-back, back-lash, whatever. This is not just some “nimbyism” operating.

Californians fought long and hard, particularly in the Seventies, for public access to the State’s beaches, cliffs and coastline. Some of the results of those efforts include San Diego’s thirty-foot height limit and the California Coastal Commission.

Access to the beach, to the cliffs is sacrosanct.

Here below, is more on the Carlsbad controversy:

CARLSBAD — A private company that controls volleyball courts on Frazee Beach in Carlsbad under an unusual agreement with the state is drawing fire from some residents who say the courts should be free for everyone.

The complaints are surfacing as officials with the state Department of Parks and Recreation gather input on whether to continue with the agreement and possibly expand recreational concessions on other state beaches in the county.  In the Carlsbad case, the Carlsbad Village Athletic Club — owned by Dennis Shay — reached a deal with California’s parks department about three years ago to operate four sand courts on the state-owned beach near Carlsbad Boulevard and Pine Avenue.

Under the agreement, members of the club pay dues to Shay and are granted priority access to three of the courts, which are fixed wooden poles that Shay installed in the sand to hold portable nets. The fourth court is supposed to remain free and open to the public.  Critics say that’s not happening.

“They make people leave even if they (club members) are not using the poles,” said John Forester, whose home overlooks the courts. “It’s ridiculous.”

Other complaints state that Shay called the authorities on some beach-goers who refused to leave the courts.

But the article did note the trend – just with the state.

Though the courts concession is unique — a parks department spokeswoman said it’s the only one in the state — many other types of vendors operate on state parkland. There were 52 concessions — including snack bars, surf schools and tour operators — in San Diego County in the 2012-13 fiscal year that generated nearly $6 million in revenue for the parks department.

 The beaches and coasts are not there for private clubs. They’re there for the public. And any incursion into that hard-won “public space” is not taken lightly by Southern Californians.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

John O. September 29, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Well, I don’t think we can expect these public facilities/areas to be funded and maintained with our tax dollars. Our tax dollars are earmarked for politicians pockets and pensions. So we should thanks the surf schools and volleyball leagues for keeping these public spaces in tact and funded.
As for the cash based (donation) yoga/boot camps, they are just hardworking Americans being capitalists, though probably not paying taxes on those donations. If you are against the yoga/boot camps on American soil, then what do you stand for?
But on that note, what about the Dog Parks? Those dogs just run around, digging, pooping, and at times, openly “fraternizing” with other dogs. Some even use intimidation to keep “their turf”.
These problems are widespread and systemic in San Diego. What is next… paid parking at the beach? Or maybe “donation” based held parking spots?


Debbie September 29, 2014 at 2:29 pm

50 0r more require a permit…no?

Large Groups
The basic rule of thumb is that any gathering of more than 50 people requires a permit from the Park and Recreation Department. A permit is also required for a wedding, water event, athletic event, voice and/or music amplification, or use of special setup equipment (such as an inflatable party jump, dunk tank, canopy, etc.) For permit information call Regional Parks at (619) 235-1169.


John Ledingham September 30, 2014 at 1:56 pm

The same type of private use of public space is happening in La Jolla Shores. Classes in yoga, bootcamp style conditioning, surfing, diving, child and preteen summer camps fill up the grass area while surf and kayak businesses stake out their territory on the beach. The very people who scream about public welfare seem fine with corporate welfare. The amount of money collected to maintain the beachfront from these businesses is laughable compared to what the tourists pay and what the locals have to put up with in order to enjoy the beach and ocean. Imagine walking down the sidewalk on the way to beach when a flock of tourists who have never carried a kayak in their lives “share” the sidewalk with you! Or better yet, stand at the boardwalk and take in the “view” of the ocean when there are enough kayaks out there to bring to mind D-Day in Normandy! The thing is, as people make more and more money of this stuff, the crowding only get worse! Who’s in charge?



cc September 28, 2015 at 9:04 am

You just compared people kayaking to WWII, let that sink in….


Rob October 2, 2014 at 3:13 pm

People need to spend more time enjoying their surroundings, instead of wasting it, judging all that surrounds them and being upset that other people are outside enjoying the beautiful beach.

I have always enjoyed sitting out on the beach, laptop in hand and wifi in range for a good solid workday. By the same standards, I’m using public space while making a buck, utilizing a few square feet that some paying tourist could have happily occupied. Does it magically become wrong with a few hundred workers from various companies start doing the same? Are we going to start detaining vagrants because they are an eyesore to the public next?


Tom Geldner October 7, 2014 at 1:58 pm

A couple of comments on the Carlsbad volleyball situation. Mr. Shay’s CVAC “concession contract” with the State permits him SPECIFICALLY for 100′ x 100′ areas at Frazee, Tamarack/Warm Waters and South Ponto Beaches. That’s about the size of one and a half volleyball courts. (One court is about 80′ x 40′ including backline and sideline areas.) However, Mr. Shay’s CVAC regularly assumes control of 3 or more courts at Tamarack & Frazee. In addition, Mr. Shay “RENTS” courts to several local beach volleyball clubs — which makes his controlled usage even more dense than what is called for in his contract. In order to play on one of Mr. Shay’s CVAC controlled courts, you have to pay him $5/day/person (or $30 for 3 months).

Some friends of mine were detained by State authorities at Mr. Shay’s request when they attempted to use one of the empty courts at Frazee last year with their own net system. They were instructed to take down their net, even though the courts were not in use and when they asked for proof that Mr. Shay had the authority to make the demand, he supplied none but called the State Parks & Rec enforcement people in.

The State claims that Mr. Shay is “organizing” play on public courts that would otherwise be in chaos if he wasn’t doing it. This is complete and utter nonsense. Volleyball courts up and down the coast have always been self-managed and generally it’s on a first come, first served basis. I have never in my 25+ years of playing volleyball on the beach EVER perceived the need for a professional “organizer” to manage sticks in the ground.

The State is taking public comments right now on the future of free / open play on the beaches. If you want to submit comments, send them to Donna Renner [].


Leigh October 17, 2014 at 3:52 pm

I’ve seen some of these yoga groups in newport beach and I don’t understand what the backlash is all about? It is a public facility and it’s nice to practice yoga outside once in a while rather than be in a confined studio. Organizing a small group shouldn’t take up that much space. As for the volleyball debacle, I’m not sure how to fix that. It should be first come first serve and if a “group” is trying to kick you off the court, then I say it is your right to tell them to try another court or challenge them a game for rights to the court. That’s usually how public basketball courts are managed.


Larry OB September 27, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Private industry can also do sand volleyball. They do it in Texas far from any beach. And you don’t have to hide your alcohol….


Larry OB September 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm

A surf school can be based at Robb Field in Ocean Beach. You warm up the class by making them paddle down to the river mouth. It would take some of the traffic and parking burden from South OB.

I’ve long been disappointed that Robb Field didn’t live up to the potential of its location on the river. They have their back to the river, and refuse to see what’s there. Canoe, kayak, and small sailboats are all Olympic sports. We could be growing Olympic athletes at Robb Field for a wider variety of sports.


l n maggard September 30, 2015 at 9:49 am

pub·lic [?p?blik] The community at large without reference to geographical limits. the people. open to all.


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