Santa Monica has gotten all exercised about fitness classes in public parks. The City Council there hates them, thinks there are too many and now wants to make them pay and pay big.
But you have to wonder what it is, exactly, that the city hates. Exercise? I don’t think so. I think there’s something else that Santa Monica truly despises. There’s something the city just can’t abide on city-owned land. That’s entrepreneurship.
You see, some trainers hold classes at city parks and charge attendees money. The trainers might point out that using a park is a great way to keep costs down and make the sessions affordable – and the participants get to exercise outside with a commanding view of the ocean. And by holding a class or two now and then, a fitness buff can earn some money on the side. Maybe even start a little home-grown business.
It all makes sense and is exactly the kind of enterprising activity most cities would welcome in this exceedingly slow economy. Some towns even have taxpayer-backed business incubators to encourage such startups.
But it doesn’t seem to make sense to Santa Monica. The City Council last week decided that it won’t sit still and allow some buff people to earn a few dollars whipping flaccid folks into shape. The council decided to push forward with a plan to make the outdoor-class ringleaders not only pay some fees and get some permits, which is perfectly fine, but pay 10 percent of their revenues to the city, which is perfectly not.
Ten percent! Think about that. That’s what the Mafia charges a business as the vig for operating in its territory. I mean, which would you rather have as your forced partner: the Mafia or the city of Santa Monica? At least the Mafia would afford you some protection.
Or just look at the city of Los Angeles next door, where there’s a similar levy called the gross receipts tax. Even though it’s much smaller – 3 percent or less of revenue – that tax is blamed for impeding business to such as degree that both candidates for mayor have seen the light and want to eliminate it.
Some in Santa Monica say all the fitness and Yoga classes – and, granted, there are a lot of them – rough up the parks and clog up the pathways, especially in Palisades Park, the long, green ribbon that runs along Ocean Avenue and overlooks the ocean. Therefore, the argument goes, the exercisers should pay extra.
But there must be a dumbbell loose for anyone to make that assertion with a straight face. Is the city proposing to make the organizers of the soccer practices at Santa Monica’s Clover Park pay extra? Or the organizers of the many other athletic activities pay? I mean, rugby scrums don’t exactly do favors to the park grass.
For that matter, is the city proposing to charge the homeless a use fee for turning sections of parkland into their living room and/or bedroom? They rough up the park and clog up some areas, particularly the south end of Palisades Park. But the city of Santa Monica, which all but encourages the homeless to stay there, wouldn’t dream of assessing them 10 percent of the money they panhandle to help pay for the damage they cause.
No, it’s only the entrepreneurial ones, the ones who are making a little honest money – literally by the sweat of their brow – who are singled out for the onerous tax.
Don’t get me wrong. The city has every right to reasonably regulate activity at city parks. If the city believes noisy boot camps shouldn’t be conducted in the predawn hours, the city has a right (an obligation, really) to set the hours that parks can be used. If the city believes there are too many tai chi and fitness classes, it has a right to set parameters. They could do it like some national park campgrounds: Certain sites can be reserved for set times on a first-come, first-served basis, and class organizers can pay reasonable fees for the reservation.
But as long as the city is singling out one group – the enterprising ones – for a tax aimed a crushing them, then we’re left to conclude that Santa Monica hates entrepreneurship.