Business & Economy

City to fitness instructors who use LA parks: Get a permit

Los Angeles officials are weighing an ordinance that would force fitness instructors who do business at city parks and beaches to obtain permits. Santa Monica approved a similar rule in 2013.
Los Angeles officials are weighing an ordinance that would force fitness instructors who do business at city parks and beaches to obtain permits. Santa Monica approved a similar rule in 2013.
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In a small park off Beverly Boulevard in Larchmont, Catherine Saul sprints back and forth across a shady patch of lawn with her personal trainer. She likes that the park is near where she lives - and it beats the gym.
 
“There’s lots of shade and just the green foliage," Saul said, taking a break. "Trees give off oxygen, right? So it’s easy to breathe.”
 
Her trainer, Jessica Gannon, also likes working with clients outdoors. She’s aware that at least in some L.A. city parks, trainers are encouraged to have a permit - like in Pan Pacific Park a short distance to the west, where dozens of trainers and boot-camp instructors do brisk business. She, however, keeps a low profile.

“I’m always one-on-one with a client," Gannon said. "So it’s more like two friends hanging out and working out together. So far, I’ve not come across any problems.”
 
That could change. A proposed city ordinance would force fitness trainers and others who offer goods and services in city parks and beaches - including food vendors - to obtain permits, or face penalties.

In nearby Santa Monica, the city invoked a law to control the mass numbers of fitness classes that crowded certain parks.

"It all started primarily with concerns from neighbors at Palisades Park," said Karen Ginsberg, with the Santa Monica city manager's office. "There were lots of fitness trainers."

In 2013, city officials in Santa Monica passed an ordinance regulating fitness trainers in public parks and beaches, making them obtain permits, have insurance, and pay fees to operate in public spaces.

Instructors now pay between roughly $100 to $150 a year for an annual permit; they also pay a quarterly usage fee ranging from $450 for small groups up to two clients, to $1,350 for large groups of more than ten, Ginsberg said.

Similar rules could apply in Los Angeles. The city currently has a permit process for fitness trainers. City officials say it costs a nominal hourly fee and can be obtained through individual parks. According to park staff at Pan Pacific, a fitness boot camp instructor would pay $60 an hour to officially do business at the park.

But the city's Recreation and Parks officials say most instructors choose not to pay - and that they want them to pony up.

"These boot camps and personal trainers do extremely lucrative business," said Kevin Regan, Los Angeles' assistant general manager for Recreation and Parks. "They make lots of money. They utilize the park, which is public space, totally for free because they refuse to pay permits and any fees. On top of that, when they advertise, many of them advertise the actual park name, as if it's legit."

The prospect of a client getting hurt, and the city being liable is also a concern, Regan said.

The proposal, a draft of which was approved by the City Council last week, would have fitness instructors go through the necessary steps to operate as legitimate businesses, including obtaining a city permit and insurance.

Regan said the permit process would most likely be amended so as to not be one-size-fits-all, so that individual trainers would not have to go by the same rules as large-scale boot camp operations.

Gannon, the trainer, said she wouldn't necessarily mind more regulation.

"If I was forced to register and do all that, it's not a big issue," she said. "I kind of like that they are cracking down on it because a lot of people are not specifically trainers."

The proposed ordinance comes after the city suspended enforcing rules against unlicensed park and beach business for several years, due to litigation.

Regan said the ordinance would affect anyone who does business in a city park or on a city beach. This includes anyone from private fitness instructors and swim instructors to pop-up pony rides, he said, along with food sales.

While the city currently has a permitting process for larger-scale food concessions, there is no permitting process for pushcart vendors. City officials are also considering a proposal that would legalize street vending, which could eventually allow these vendors to sell their goods on city streets and in parks with permits.