Shores Association considers permit regulations for scuba divers

By Dave Schwab

La Jolla Shores community planners want private scuba companies using Kellogg Park to begin paying their fair share for upkeep of the public amenity.

“The issue raised by some members of the La Jolla Shores Association (LJSA) is that the SCUBA schools and tours are clearly a commercial use of the beach, and should be regulated by an RFP (Request For Proposals), similar to those required by the kayak- and surf-school businesses,” said LJSA chair Audrey Keane.

“If they’re (scuba companies) going to use the park for commercial purposes, then there should be some benefit back, especially in these times when maintaining and improving the park has been so minimized by funding cuts,” added board member Mary Coakley. “Surfers, kayakers, all of those who use the park should put back into a fund to benefit it.”

Acknowledging scuba divers, like kayakers and surfers, have a legitimate right to share Kellogg Park, Coakley suggested scuba divers ought “to get together and work out a proposal” on contributing to Kellogg Park, rather than having the city “come down on them with a proposal like they did on the kayakers.”

Several years ago, a similar fight over shared use of the increasingly crowded ocean by private companies hosting group kayak tours led the city to create a lottery system to limit tours and curb kayak proliferation. Lifeguards also warned that increasing demands on their time by kayak users was threatening public safety.

“Almost every scuba lesson taught in San Diego does its check-out (final) dives in La Jolla Shores,” said Jerry Parker, a scuba divemaster with Sport Chalet, one of several companies offering private scuba lessons in the Shores.

Pointing out that now until October is the “high season” for scuba instruction (and primarily on weekends), Parker noted it’s not uncommon to see scuba groups totaling as many as 100 in Kellogg Park between 8 a.m. and noon.

But Parker disagrees that scuba diving presents any conflicts or problems in the park.

“It doesn’t take up any lifeguard time,” he said, “scuba diving is segregated from the normal beach-going population,” and concentrated near the bathrooms at the south end of Kellogg Park.

“I’ve done dozens of classes, both as a student and as a divemaster, and there’s never been any problem or interference between divers and people getting out of the water,” Parker said. “The only trouble is limited parking right close to that area. Parking is the problem — not diving.”

Rod Watkins, owner of Scuba San Diego, Inc., is an outspoken critic of the city’s lottery system restricting Shores commercial kayakers. He believes instituting a similar RFP process for scuba divers would be a mistake.

“It would make it more difficult for all businesses to do business,” he said. “It will increase revenues to the city, but none of that revenue will be spent at La Jolla Shores.”

Watkins used to be in the kayak and scuba business in the Shores, but said he got out of kayaking after the city introduced its RFP and lottery system.

“There were originally 16 kayak operators,” he said. “Now there’s five. Many jobs are gone. What benefit has La Jolla Shores received from the kayak RFP? Nothing.”

First District Councilmember Sherri Lightner said she is willing to help get all the stakeholders together to discuss the next steps, should the community determine private scuba regulation at La Jolla Shores is in order.

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