New Beach Permit Policy Moves Forward with No Vote from Beach Commission

The 20-member Los Angeles County Beach Commission failed to meet quorum Wednesday morning and could not vote on a plan to change the permit process for beach camps, surfing schools and other fitness and recreational activities that take place on county beaches and in Marina del Rey.

Santos H. Kreimann, director of the county’s Department of Beaches and Harbors, said his department would soon send its revised permit policy to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for approval, despite not having a vote from the commission. If approved, the new permit policy would go into effect in time for summer 2012.

Only eight board members showed up for the meeting to consider the revisions, which include an increase in the permit application fee, a new requirement for advanced payment, increased safety standards for camp operators and a new bidding element for desirable locations at county beaches and in Marina del Rey. The new policy also would increase the county’s share of gross receipts from operators to 15 percent from the current 10 percent and the percentage could go higher in the future, Kreimann said.

The department wants to update a policy in place since 1984 that has allowed permits to be renewed to program operators as long as they remained in good standing. Anyone wanting to break into the system has been put on a waiting list that sometimes has kept operators waiting for years for a permit.

The Beach Commission first heard of the proposed changes in March and the Department of Beaches and Harbors held a workshop in April with beach operators to gain feedback. The matter was further discussed later that same month at a Beach Commission meeting that featured public comments from beach camp and surfing school operators with several asking for another workshop and more discussion before moving forward with any changes.

The commission, which acts as an advisory group to the Department of Beaches and Harbors, was supposed to vote Wednesday on revisions made to the policy after the workshop and public hearing. Several commissioners in attendance said they favored holding another workshop and they started holding a mock vote before stopping.

Kreimann briefly huddled with county counsel at that point and then told the audience of roughly 45 people that the commission couldn’t vote due to its lack of quorum. He said his department would send the revised policy onward to the county’s Board of Supervisors since the Beach Commission acts in only an advisory role and time was of the essence.

“I’m a little shell-shocked and confused right now,” said Chris Brown, who operates Camp Surf in Manhattan Beach. “We’ll see what happens.”

Brown said a coalition of permit holders made many concessions to the county and were led to believe that there would be give-and-take on both sides.

“We just got hit with some stuff that seems like it’s out of left field,” Brown said.

For example, he said the new policy calls for operators to pay 15 percent of their gross receipts to the county with 75 percent of that payment due no later than five business days after the start of a camp or fitness training activity.

“If you think about it, not only does it not work for this business model, but it doesn’t work for any business model,” Brown said. “For a landlord to come up to you and say ‘I need four months rent ahead of time,’ how do you get that money? You can’t, you’re not getting paid until later. What are you supposed to do, go out and get a loan each year?”

In the past, operators have paid their percentage of gross receipts at the end of the permit season, Brown said.

Some operators also balked at new requirements that called for day camp instructors to be at least 18 years old, since some hire 16-year-old instructors for their beach camps.

“Things such as hiring only 18-year-olds cost money and things like ocean-certified lifeguards cost money. On top of fees that are not capped, it becomes an uncertain financial future,” said Jack Tingley, who operates Beach Sports surf camps in Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Will Rogers State Beach.

The new application process allows for applicants to bid for certain beach locations with a $100 minimum bid, and Tingley said there should be a cap on bidding to level the playing field.

“I think it’s unwarranted,” he said. “Each location was arrived at by chance. Would you rather have a Zuma location or a Redondo Beach location? You know what, that depends on where you live. A person who lives in Torrance doesn’t want to go to Zuma to work. If it has to be done, it should be a set fee.”

Tingley said he has been operating as a nonprofit for the past 15 years and hasn’t been required to pay fees.

“We understand that we need to pay now and that’s something we accept,” he said.

The Department of Beaches and Harbor also revised the permit selection criteria after feedback from operators. The new criteria has professional experience counting for 25 percent, instead of the previous 15 percent; safety standards accounting for 25 percent, a drop from 30 percent; operating plans weighed at 15 percent, from 30 percent; financial capability considered as 15 percent, from 10 percent; and community service counting for 10 percent, from 5 percent. Other selection criteria include an applicant’s thorough response to all requested information, 5 percent, and location bidding, 5 percent.

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