Angelenos are resigned to grappling with gridlock on our streets. But we don’t expect to encounter traffic in our parks.
Unfortunately, though, some parks have become nearly as congested as our thoroughfares. Instead of cars, we’re dodging yoga mats, hand weights and the exercisers who wield them. Santa Monica’s signature Palisades Park, an expanse of grass and leafy trees that runs along Ocean Avenue from Adelaide Drive to Colorado Avenue, has become a mecca for fitness boot camps, private yoga classes, weight trainers and all manner of exercise groups.
Increasingly, as trainers and exercise teachers try to find new ways to engage clients, their place of work has migrated out of the fluorescent-lit gym and into the sunny outdoors. And no park is more scenic than Palisades Park, with its unobstructed view of the ocean. So it’s not all that surprising that in one week in October, city officials say, 73 group fitness classes plus 74 private or semi-private classes were held there.
That’s a lot of people and kettle bells. Understandably, some park users are feeling crowded out. Other municipalities facing similar congestion problems have begun limiting the size or type of classes that may be held in public parks, or imposing fees on trainers. Redondo Beach, for instance, allows only city-sponsored classes in its parks; the city of Los Angeles imposes a $60 an hour fee on private boot camp operators.
Santa Monica may move in that direction as well; it’s considering raising existing user and permit fees and limiting class sizes as well as hours of operation. After all, a trainer doing business in a well-groomed public park is reaping the benefits of a place tended by municipal workers. There is already a litany of regulations in Santa Monica governing recreational use of parks, including restrictions on hours, athletic equipment, noise levels and where a dog can be off-leash. It would not be unreasonable to add regulations on exercise classes. Among other things, no instructor should be allowed to tell other park users to move.
Not that there’s anything wrong with exercising. A city would be lucky if its worst scofflaws were fitness buffs. But parks have to be shared by all. People should be able to stroll through them without feeling like they’re walking across a gym floor.