A year later: Kayak operators revisit lottery impact

Allocating time slots to kayaker companies is making the waters off La Jolla safer, lifeguards say, but some of those who run the tours still aren’t totally happy with the plan.

“It provides better organization of the (Shores) boat launch area and a more consistent process for allowing (kayak) companies to launch and retrieve their boats,” said San Diego Lifeguard Chief Rick Wurts of the lottery system initiated last year. “The general consensus from the guards down there was that it was positive.”

The city started allocating launch times because lifeguards said too many kayaks were out during busy summer weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day, posing a public safety threat and monopolizing lifeguards’ time.

But some Shores kayak operators aren’t so sure the lottery system is perfect.

“It appears the large operators are being rewarded and those of us who asked for limited numbers of tours to offer smaller, more professional experiences are being forced out of business,” e-mailed Lance Peto, co-owner of Sea Cave Kayaks. “We do not feel that we should be punished for limiting our business plan to run a smaller, more professional and better-supervised operation.”

Smaller operators such as Hike Bike Kayak say they are more affected than larger ones like La Jolla Kayak.

“Eighty percent of our business is tours, whereas it’s about 50-50 with La Jolla Kayak,” said David Teafatiller, who co-owns Hike Bike Kayak with his wife, Angela. “The little guys were certainly hurt when they took away some launch times on weekends from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.”

Teafatiller said half of his kayak company’s annual income is earned on weekends between Fourth of July and Labor Day. The lottery took 30 percent of that away and gave it to the larger competitors, he added.

John Metzger, co-owner of OEX Dive and Kayak Center at 2158 Avenida de la Playa, said communication between the city and operators needs to be improved “so that we know what the rules are and what we can expect for the upcoming season.”

Metzger noted that water safety is a “difficult complex situation” and that the kayak lottery was a “compromise” solution. But, he said, just as operators accept limitations to curb kayak crowds, the city needs to accept that things need to be done to make it easier for business owners to “understand the rules and have ample opportunity to address them.”

One former kayak operator, Rod Watkins, continues to maintain that the system could not be justified from the get-go. Watkins, who used to run his La Jolla Shores tours from Mission Bay hotels, said he was put out of business by the kayak lottery. He is currently suing the city, challenging its legal right to charge kayak operators fees to use public beaches and the boat ramp.

Watkins claims that the city does not own the tidelands and has been making policy decisions that are illegal, but has been getting away with it because nobody has ever challenged them.

“The city doesn’t care about the small businessman,” Watkins said. “What they’re trying to do is force all the kayak sales into one or two operators. The vehicle to do that was the lottery.”