Jae C. Hong/AP
City officials say Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif., is being overrun by people participating in fitness training, including boot camps, yoga classes and massage therapy sessions.
City officials say Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif., is being overrun by people participating in fitness training, including boot camps, yoga classes and massage therapy sessions. Jae C. Hong/AP
If you haven't been to Palisades Park — the famous oceanfront park in Santa Monica, Calif. — chances are you have seen its swaying palm trees and sweeping ocean vistas in movies and commercials.
Running up the wooden stairs that plunge to the beach is the workout to do in this city where it seems like you have to be fit to fit in. In fact, most early mornings before work hours, this park seems more like an outdoor gym than anything else, with running clubs, weight training and kickboxing classes.
But it appears that even in Southern California, the fitness craze has its limits. The city of Santa Monica is considering a crackdown on the yoga teachers and fitness coaches who have come to dominate the park.
The Outdoor Workout
Angela Parker is one of those professional fitness trainers who coaches at Palisades Park.
Some cities, like Washington, D.C., may grant you permission to conduct group exercises in public parks as long as you have a permit; however, the district does not allow private companies — private trainers — to charge for business.
John Stokes, D.C.'s Parks and Recreation chief of staff, says officials are looking into the regulations to access the community's needs.
Lauren Hoffmann, with the National Recreation and Park Association, says the organization's members have various way to go about it.
"Many are finding solutions to work together, permitting the trainers and other private instructors to use public spaces rather than banning activities," she says.
One shared objective that private personal trainers and parks and recreation departments are working toward: "a healthier community," she says.
-Brian De Los Santos
Parker, who owns Body Inspired Fitness in Santa Monica, says her clients don't want to be inside a gym.
"People flock here from all over the world and from all over this country because of the weather, and part of that is because people want to be outdoors," she says. "We want to live a green lifestyle, and that involves not using machines — it involves being outside."
But the problem is that some exercise enthusiasts bring machines and all sorts of gear to parks like these.
"Massage tables, weight equipment, even little spinning bikes we've seen in the park," says Karen Ginsberg, the city's director of community and cultural services.
Ginsberg says she wonders why trainers can't just take advantage of the huge beaches nearby.
"Santa Monica State Beach is probably one of the widest beaches on the California coast. It has plenty of space for group activities," she says.
Ginsberg is writing a slate of new regulations that could include levying higher fees on trainers, or a flat 15 percent tax on private fitness companies that operate in public spaces. The Santa Monica City Council may even consider banning classes altogether from Palisades Park.
That would suit residents like Marek Probosz just fine. He was out on a recent afternoon kicking a soccer ball with his son.
"It belongs to us, it belongs to the public," he says. "It doesn't belong to a corporation or organization which thinks, 'Oh that's great, the city made it for us, we can sell it and use it for a property.' "
Probosz says residents who come to enjoy this narrow strip of green above the ocean are being crowded out by trainers and exercise boot camps.
The Santa Monica Lifestyle
This is Santa Monica, however, where the city's motto, populus felix in urbe felici, Latin for "fortunate people in a fortunate land," translates into fitness and living a healthy lifestyle.
"I'm over 30 and I feel like I'm 17 or 18, I have energy all day long," says Lindsey Stair. She lives by Palisades Park and drags herself out of bed before work most mornings to make a 6:30 class.
Boot camp participants at an early morning class in Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif.
Boot camp participants at an early morning class in Palisades Park in Santa Monica, Calif. Kirk Siegler/NPR
"It helps me at work all day," she says. "People tell me I have an energy, and it all comes from coming to this boot camp and being around these really cool people. It just changed my life for sure."
Stair says it's also changed the culture of parks, which she says used to be unsafe. The fitness classes and all the joggers are now outnumbering the homeless — another thing Santa Monica is well-known for.