The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday voted to require owners of businesses that conduct stand-up paddleboard lessons to obtain permits, attend mandatory orientation and limit class sizes as part of a slate of rules to deal with the increased popularity of the sport.
A commercial class' time on the water will not be restricted, as staff originally suggested.
The new proposed rules passed the first reading 3 to 1, with Councilwoman Toni Iseman dissenting and Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen absent. A second vote must be held before approval is final.
Council members heard from business owners and residents concerned about safety and how best to balance the interests of stand-up paddlers and other beachgoers.
The council stopped short of restricting the types of stand-up paddle businesses that may operate in the city on the advice of City Atty. Phil Kohn.
Owners of brick-and-mortar stores in Laguna, concerned that stand-up paddle operators from outside the city were bringing in mobile operations and creating parking problems on streets and congestion on the beaches, brought the matter to the council's attention last year.
Managing space on the beaches was a prime discussion topic Tuesday.
Stand-up paddlers may launch from any beach in the city, Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow said, but he added that most recent congestion problems occurred at Diver's Cove and Boat Canyon in north Laguna.
Rod Greenup, owner of Laguna-based Costa Azul Surf N' Paddle, said he and other businesses in town have been self-regulating for years, including determining when it's safe to go out on the ocean. He questioned whether the new rules were necessary.
Greenup attributed most of the crowding and parking in the area around Costa Azul to mobile operators.
"We need to step up and draw a line," he said. "There are too many people showing up on the beach. It's a free-for-all."
Beaches are crowded, with people wielding stand-up paddle boards that can measure 12 feet long, said Jason Watson, manager at Laguna Surf & Sport, which does not offer stand-up paddle lessons.
"We respect business people who love the ocean," Watson said. "We are not trying to hurt businesses in the area but trying to find a way to all work within this beautiful town. But it is a numbers game. [Stand-up paddling] is booming. More people are doing it. Launching these things off the beach is complicated. It's not a little surf board or boogey board."
Watson had two volunteers carry a stand-up paddleboard into council chambers.
"It's too congested," Watson said of beaches where stand-up paddlers and swimmers need to share space on the sand and in the water. "It's a danger to surfers, a danger to kids playing in the shore breaks."
The marine safety staff already has the authority to monitor the beaches, which might mean closing the area because of dangerous conditions, Snow said.
Marine safety staff regularly call dive shop and stand-up paddle operators to let them know of conditions, Snow said. Seven stand-up paddle businesses regularly operate on city beaches, including five that have a store in Laguna, he added.
"We also rely on their ability to determine [whether it's safe to go out]," Snow said. "It's their liability."
The proposed rules stipulate a student-instructor ratio of 4 to 1, with no more than 10 people linked to one business, including the instructor, on the water at one time.
Stand-up paddle teachers would also need to have CPR training and first-aid certification, and businesses would pay a one-time application fee of $150 and a yearly renewal fee of $100.
Taylor Chaput founded Paddle Board Bliss in Newport Beach four years ago and has been holding classes in Laguna ever since. She said her instructors are certified and pay close attention to the safety of paddlers and other beachgoers.
"We're not a fly-by-night operator," Chaput said. "We live and breathe this business with a passion and try to meet the growing demand while working with the city and residents. We are respecting the beach. If the surf is too high, we don't go out."
During the summer, Chaput said, her classes launch paddleboards one at a time.
Councilman Steve Dicterow applauded staff for developing the rules, but said he was not in favor of regulating mobile operators.
"As much as I am a pro-safety person, I am also a pro-freedom person," Dicterow said. "If you want total safety, let's not let people go into ocean. Frankly, every person that goes in the water needs to have common sense and personal responsibility. I don't want to go to the other extreme of over-regulation. I want the free marketplace to work and the best operators succeed."
Iseman offered a different take.
"What is our obligation?" she said. "Our obligation is understanding that thousands of people sitting on the sand shouldn't have to worry about a guided missile from someone who doesn't know what they are doing.
"I know that we have talented people doing a good job, but I also know that if everything is going to double [more businesses entering the scene], we are going to be back here with a big problem. We are creating a burden with no revenue coming back to the city with the exception of a $150 business license."
If the rules are approved, city staff would plan to implement them July 3 and then report back to the council in September. Iseman said she would have voted "yes" if the report came back in August.