A majority of the Laguna Beach Planning Commission proved reluctant to restrict the hours commercial stand-up paddle groups can do business on the water.
Members, however, agreed that the city should work with such operators as well as lifeguards to improve safety.
Commissioners on Wednesday heard testimony from residents, stand-up paddle business owners and surfers about a proposed ordinance that would require instructors to have CPR and first-aid certification as well as an operator's permit. The law would also require a maximum 4-1 student-teacher ratio along the water.
The ordinance would apply only to commercial instruction.
City staff recommended the rules, which would limit to 10 the number of stand-up paddlers in the water at one time from a single business. This is intended to address the increasing popularity of the sport.
Lifeguards contend that monitoring and sometimes rescuing paddlers diverts their attention from swimmers.
The city recommended limiting hours of stand-up paddle instruction to 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. from June 15 through Sept. 15, but business owners balked.
Rod Greenup, who has owned Laguna Beach-based Costa Azul Surf N' Paddle since 1991, argued that restricting hours would hinder overall safety because fewer instructors would be available to help, if needed, the independent paddlers, who would not be limited in their ability to enjoy the water.
"Instead of limiting liability, we're going to increase liability," Greenup said. "... they're going out into the ocean without someone that has the wherewithal or the simple experience to say, 'Hey, the current is moving you down here, the tide is changing.'"
Resident Rebecca Apodaca, who frequents Diver's Cove, said the ocean is thick with inexperienced paddlers.
"Diver's has always been baby beach because the waves are only 1 to 3 feet," Apodaca said. "We have a lot of toddlers. My grandson is 9 years old and last year he saved three children. Each time was because of a stand-up paddler coming in, not on the right side. The lifeguard is helping [a stand-up paddler] and doesn't even see [another child] who was in trouble.
"There is nothing wrong with commerce, but I think the lifeguards are there mainly to protect the humans."
Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow said restricting operating hours would make monitoring more manageable for lifeguards.
"I understand [the business owners'] point, and I don't want to see them suffer financially," Snow said, adding that the lifeguards' initial proposal mirrored scuba regulations because it had been a successful agreement.
Scuba- and skin-diving classes are restricted from 7 to 10 a.m. June 15 to Sept. 15 on city beaches, according to municipal code.
Commissioner Ken Sadler asked whether a stand-up paddle law is needed.
"Must we increase bureaucracy at every turn?" Sadler asked, suggesting instead a
volunteer surf patrol, similar to the ski patrols that monitor the slopes.
"[Commercial] stand-up paddling puts an extra burden on our lifeguard staff to deal with the going out and coming back in," he said.
Commissioner Norm Grossman recommended group instruction from 7 to 11 a.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.
Commission Chairman Robert Zur Schmiede asked whether the city could prohibit mobile stand-up paddle operators from using public property — a city beach or street — for a commercial purpose, such as training, storage and parking.
"I know you have a provision that prohibits money changing hands on the beach, but that seems like a difficult thing for lifeguards to enforce," Zur Schmiede said.
He explained that instead of "evaluating this as a restriction on competition. It has to do with the use of public property and gaining commercial use from that property."
Deputy City Manager Ben Siegel, who consulted with the city attorney, said restricting [stand-up paddle] operation to brick-and-mortar businesses without advancing a legitimate public purpose would be subject to legal challenge.
The City Council is expected to review a revised version of the proposed ordinance in May.