A stand-up paddleboarder is trailed by two Pacific dolphins who follow her along the coast offshore from Anita Street in Laguna Beach.

A stand-up paddleboarder is trailed by two Pacific dolphins who follow her along the coast offshore from Anita Street in Laguna Beach. (DON LEACH / December 18, 2008)

Increased stand-up paddleboarding and related businesses have city officials worrying about the safety of Laguna beachgoers.

The City Council on Tuesday directed staff to review how other coastal cities have dealt with the increasing popularity of stand-up paddleboarding. The report will be passed along to the Planning Commission to consider while it devises an ordinance to regulate the recreational and business activities on the beach.

"The primary concern is safety for the participants and for other beachgoers," said Community Services Director Ben Siegel. "When you have a large number of paddlers congregating on the beach at one time, there's several boards associated with that and it takes up a lot of space on the beach and in the water.

"Lifeguards, per protocol, escort the paddlers through the surf line and make sure they stay away from hazardous areas and that diverts their attention from other responsibilities."

The city has also received complaints about the impact such businesses have on neighborhoods.

For the past two years, marine safety officers and code enforcers have observed storage of paddleboard equipment on public and private property, sales of merchandise and the exchange of money on beaches where commercial activity is prohibited, according to a report by Siegel and Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow.

The illegal activity is the result of out-of-town companies doing business with no oversight, safety protocols, insurance or stake in the city economy, four local businesses owners said at the meeting. They called for restrictions and regulations to be enacted.

"It is unfair to those of us who pay rent, taxes, insurance, for training and staff," said Billy Fried, owner of La Vida Laguna, a North Laguna company that provides lessons and equipment for paddling, surfing and kayaking, with all financial transactions in the shop.

Fried, who writes opinion columns for the Coastline Pilot, proposed in 2009 a plan to conduct a kayak rental service at Treasure Island, but declined to move ahead with the project because of the conditions of approval imposed by city officials.

He presented a slide show Tuesday illustrating parked vans, allegedly using shopper's parking stickers, which residents pay an upfront fee for so they can park and shop local businesses, and stated that such mobile-based companies do not require customers to wear life jackets and send folks out on the water without supervision.

"I just want to defend my business," said Taylor Chaput, who operates Paddle Board Bliss out of a van.

Chaput said her company is affiliated with local hotels, is insured, has a 5-1 student-to-instructor ratio. Instructor are CPR-certified and provides life jackets when required. She said she would be happy to add the city to her company insurance policy.

"I want to be very clear; I don't intend to put you out of business, and I have no intention of showing favoritism toward a brick and mortar as opposed to how you do things. My concern is safety," Councilman Steven Dicterow said.

He disputed a comparison made by one speaker of a beach crowded with towels and an ocean crowded with people and equipment. Being in the ocean is inherently more dangerous, Dicterow said.

"Possible regulations could be the hours during which things occur, the location where they occur, total numbers, licensing or requirements for safety backgrounds of teachers and making sure storage of is occurring in a safe place, not on the beaches and creating a problem," Dicterow said.

Dicterow motioned to have the issue referred to the Planning Commission. The motion was amended to include staff review of ordinances in other cities and an identification to be worn by the instructors and it passed unanimously.

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