The Legitimacy of Outdoor Fitness Businesses in Santa Barbara County

In a city as beautiful as Santa Barbara, the idea of hosting various outdoor exercise programs is extremely appealing to fitness instructors. But many of these entrepreneurs are not aware of the fact that the city requires outdoor programs to purchase permits, fitness and training programs included.

Ignorance is bliss, but probably not in this situation. There are far more outdoor fitness classes that do not have permits, than have them, and this is something to be weary of. The safety of participants is being totally exploited when these businesses do not abide by city regulations. In the case that someone sustained a serious injury in one of these classes, neither the fitness instructor nor their business would be held liable in court. Fitness classes that do not have the necessary permits are violating city laws, and are basically making money off of tax payers’ dollars for the use of public property. Considering the high volume of outdoor fitness classes on any given day in the City of Santa Barbara , this issue is extremely relevant here. Seems pretty pertinent, doesn’t it?

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According to the City of Santa Barbara Municipal Code Section 15.16.10, any person practicing, carrying on, conducting, or soliciting for any occupation, business or profession in any City park or beach must have a business license and permit with the City. Susan Jang-Bardick, the Recreation Supervisor for Facilities and Special Events for the City of Santa Barbara, says that “city parks and beaches are public lands supported in part by taxpayer monies, so when a business does not pay for a park permit, the public is in essence subsidizing that business. The permit allows businesses to legally conduct their business in a City park or beach.”

Fees for permits vary depending on whether you are a resident of the city or not, whether you are using waterfront park property and how many participants there are in your class. Current permit prices range from $20-$30 per hour. A permit is required for every class, which is why businesses often purchase the permit for a lengthier period of time, to avoid the hassle of constantly re-applying for permits. Businesses are also required to provide the city with a $ 1 million general liability insurance certificate, listing the City of Santa Barbara, its officers, employees and agents as additionally insured.

These permits are important because they give legitimacy to training businesses, and more importantly, responsibility for the safety of the clients participating. In 2008, the city Parks and Recreation department finally decided to regulate this phenomenon more seriously. The city recognized the growing trend in outdoor “boot camp” type exercise programs when private trainers and for-profit fitness programs began hosting classes in Santa Barbara’s parks and beaches. The problems with these classes were impactful enough for the city to hear multiple complaints and effectively address them. Competition of space usage between businesses and vendors, negative impacts on the environment of the park grounds, and coordination of pretty much all other park usage were among the most poignant issues.

outdoor park2The fees required for businesses to use the City’s land are minimal, especially in comparison to the requirements for other cities. For example, the city of Ventura requires the purchase of a $25 day permit, along with a vendor processing fee – the same one used for Hot Dog stands. On top of that, only 15 students are allowed per permit and just during the hours of 5:30am and 6:45am, in non-residential parks only. In Long Beach, the city handles all of the class registration, and receives 35% of total fees. Certificates of insurance for up to $1 million liability of coverage is also required in both cities.

Here in Santa Barbara, the first warning is given verbally, with businesses asked to leave the grounds upon a lack of presentable permit. But after that, fees of $395 for the first violation, $770 for the second, and $957 for the third, are listed in the Municipal Codes.

Santa Barbara’s comparatively laid back restrictions on the use of public property for private gain have been a point of concern for some members of the community. Complaints have been made about the concerns of the safety of participants’ in outdoor fitness classes and the issue of tax payer’s money subsidizing these businesses. But for now, the city is helping to facilitate a balance between the use of its public facilities for private profit and public use. According to Jang-Bardick, there are only a handful of businesses with legitimate multi-session classes and activities permits. Businesses that frequently change location are something to be especially weary of, as they may be avoiding the fees of permits and the suspicion of City officials.

Curious about whether or not your favorite outdoor training sessions hold legitimate permits? You should be. Without these permits, no one is liable for any injuries you sustain while paying for these lessons. Consider whether or not a business has the necessary permits before you enroll in the next one, and you will be supporting safety, fairness of tax dollar allocation, and your community.

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