Kayak fees challenged


Shores operator sues, says land ‘a public trust’

A La Jolla Shores kayak operator has sued the city, challenging its right to charge annual fees to businesses using the city’s sole coastal launch ramp.

Rodney M. Watkins, owner of Scuba San Diego, contends that the La Jolla shores ramp “doesn’t belong to the city. It belongs to the people of the state of California. Because of that, the city has no legal or statutory authority to charge anything to use that land.”

Watkins, who operates scuba and kayak tours to La Jolla Shores and Cove out of San Diego bayfront hotels, also named Mayor Jerry Sanders and Council President Scott Peters in his lawsuit.

“La Jolla Shores boat launch is a public trust land and a non-fee easement,” he said.

He is also seeking an injunction in San Diego Superior Court, which would block progress being made on the city’s plans to institute a lottery system for operators to limit kayak rentals starting in 2009. The plan was announced at an Aug. 5 La Jolla public meeting.

‘Taxes as fees’

Watkins said fees for small businessmen renting kayaks at La Jolla Shores were increased by the city more than tenfold in 2006, going from $500 a year to $6,000 a year.

“What we have here is the city trying to disguise taxes as fees,” he said. “That is patently illegal.”

Because Peters is named as a defendant in the suit, his office deferred comment to the city attorney. The city attorney’s office declined to comment, saying the lawsuit was a lengthy document and more time was needed to review it.

The city’s proposed lottery plan would offer an-as-yet-unspecified number of kayak operators, chosen via a formal process, randomly drawn time slots to limit the number of group tours and individual kayak rentals allowed on busy summer weekends.

More rescues seen

San Diego Lifeguard Capt. Rick Wurts said there has long been a steady increase in the use of the (Shores) boat launch for kayaks and “an increasing number of rescues that have had something to do with kayaks.”

The problem of kayak overcrowding at the Shores is underscored by increasing interaction between kayaks and other water users.

One such incident occurred on Thursday, July 31, near the Marine Room, when Rancho Santa Fe resident Leslie Freedle-Boren, who works in La Jolla, was seriously injured in a kayak collision.

“My son and I were about 20 feet apart and this kayak came in between us and hit me in the face as I was swimming, knocking two of my teeth out and shoving three of my top teeth through my bottom lip,” said Freedle-Boren.

The injury has subsequently cost her more than $30,000 in dental repairs, she said.

After the man and two women involved in the incident alerted lifeguards to her condition, they left without being identified, she said.

Another way?

La Jolla Shores kayak operators like Doug Marshall, owner of La Jolla Surf Systems for 20 years, agree that summer kayaking has become a problem.

But, he said, he doesn’t believe the city’s lottery proposal to limit kayak use on summer weekends will solve the problem but instead will just shift it to different days.

“What they’ll (operators) do will be to discount their tours on weekdays,” said Marshall, who’s convinced a lottery, which would treat all players equally no matter their size or longevity, is unfair.

“Now that the city’s gone from charging (operators) $500 a year to $600 a month,” he said, “permits are going to whoever wants to pony up the most money, and that’s a problem. They should be charging the same fee, say $10 a month per kayak, to everybody. That way, nobody goes out of business.”