By Julian Schoen
Despite objections and lawsuits from the community, the Santa Cruz City Council passed a new ordinance Apr. 10, demanding that individuals possess a permit in order to teach services on public property.
Services are defined as non-material goods, such as teaching and coaching. The ordinance is an attempt to deter amateur instruction of physical and recreational activities on city-owned land.
Under the new code, any transaction that occurs on city property between individuals and private organizations will require a permit. Surf schools fall under the services category, forcing proprietors to obtain written validation from the city to continue running their businesses.
The code, known as Ordinance 13.10.010, will take effect in one month. It is a modification to an old law, allowing the city of Santa Cruz to regulate services and goods.
Mike Rotkin, member of the Public Safety Committee on the Santa Cruz City Council, is an advocate of the new ordinance. He explained that the initial problem arose over the clarity of legal verbiage in the previous law. Before, only the commercial sales of goods were covered by the edict.
“[The city] could regulate the sale of ice cream cones, but not surfing,” Rotkin described. “It’s a matter of safety and convenience. The city should be able to regulate services.”
David Meyberg could not disagree more. Meyberg acted as the attorney for the Santa Cruz Surf School, which challenged the city over the specifics of the law’s wording.
Meyberg challenged the old code after an incident in 2005, when students of the Santa Cruz Surf School were blocked from crossing the sands of Cowell Beach for not possessing a permit. Lifeguards, who are paid employees of the city, denied these individuals access to the water, inciting Meyberg to represent this case in court.
A competitive surfer, former lifeguard, and self-proclaimed expert in public safety, Meyberg instigated the discussion by discovering the apparent loophole in the old code’s jargon.
“The code does not support [the city’s] position,” Meyberg said. “Instructors are not selling goods, they’re teaching.”
Meyberg’s argument was founded on the belief that the Pacific Ocean is not a part of the city’s jurisdiction, and therefore cannot be regulated by the governing council.
“If the city never existed, what my client was using would still be there,” he rebuked. “What my client uses is basically a natural resource.”
He insisted that the city had no desire to regulate the other businesses encompassed in the language of the code. Dog walkers, babysitters, sports coaches and elderly assistants who take their clients down to the beach would also need to stop by city hall first, Meyberg explained.
“There is no way all these types of people should have to go to the city to obtain a permit,” he said. “The city is targeting a particular group of people, mainly surf schools.”
Carol Scurich, superintendent of the Parks and Recreation Department, countered Meyberg’s arguments. She stated that the government could only respond once the public confronted it with the conflicts they faced in the neighborhood.
“We operate when we know about things,” Scurich defended. “We respond when we are aware.”
She continued to explain that over the years there has been an increasing number of complaints from residents, citing distress over crowded waters, inexperienced surf guides, and disregard for private property.
If the public approached the government with complaints dealing with babysitters, coaches, or any other individuals preoccupied with supervision, the council would regulate their services as well, Scurich concluded.
“We got involved because the community came to us,” Scurich added. “Surf schools were getting in the way, staggering on the bluff, and making it difficult to walk.”