Kayak operators critical of RFP process

The city of San Diego’s process for limiting commercial kayak proliferation during busy summer weekends in La Jolla Shores appears to have successfully improved public safety while decreasing the demand on lifeguards.

But the results have not been so positive for the six Shores kayak operators who now have to live with the consequences of a lottery the city used this March to accomplish its goals. The lottery parceled out 54 times slots, 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 hours long, for group tours among the operators.

“The city has made a huge cutback to the number of boats on the water,” said Sharon Luscomb, co-owner with husband Michael of La Jolla Kayak, the largest of the six Shores operators.

However, from a business perspective, Luscomb said the kayak cutback went too far. “It’s been a significant hit to businesses. It’s upset customers. We’ve had two- and three-hour waiting lists.”

The Shores kayak Request for Proposal (RFP) system took effect June 13 and will run through Labor Day. Once the summer season is over, lifeguards and kayak operators are expected to compare notes and tweak the RFP process, if need be, for next year.

The kayak operators already say the RFP process disproportionately impacts larger operators, culminating in clients being forced to wait for long periods - or be turned away all together.

What the RFP has accomplished, said Luscomb, is to redistribute available business benefiting smaller operators at the expense of larger ones. “It (RFP) should have been done proportionately to the market shares of the companies,” she said.

Jennifer Kleck of Aqua Adventures, the smallest of the six Shores operators, believes operators’ business plans weren’t scrutinized closely enough by the city, which has led to “a few glaring errors” in the RFP process.

“It makes me suspicious that the proposals weren’t read, or weren’t read carefully,” she said. “That’s frustrating to us who spent many hours working on proposals.”

Angela Harrell Teafatiller and husband David, who co-own Hike Bike and Kayak, a mid-size Shores operator furthest away from the beach, admitted something needed to be done to curb summer kayak proliferation and improve public safety on the ocean.

“But I don’t know if this, exactly, was the right answer,” she said, adding that, though she’s benefiting from competitors overflow, “I only have 15 rentals. Once my slots are full - I have to turn people away.”

Luscomb added the kayak RFP is negatively impacting other Shores’ businesses. “I know it’s impacting the restaurants because we have less traffic in our stores,” she said.

Restricting group kayak tours also pressures operators to raise their prices. “It’s cutting our revenues on weekends by half or more on top of the city’s taking 8 percent,” said Harrell Teafatiller. “I’m paying 600 percent extra to use a public boat launch that everyone else in San Diego gets to use for free.”

But raising prices could be a Catch-22. “If I raise my fees to offset lost business and increased fees, I won’t get any business,” Teafatiller said. “It’s tough.”

So far, the kayak RFP is serving the purpose for which it was intended, San Diego Lifeguard spokesman Rick Wurts said.

“We’re seeing some very positive results,” he said. “The overall number of incidents that we’re having seem to be reduced and the type of incidents seems to be moving in a positive direction toward a safe operation.”

Wurts said the kayak RFP will be revisited by the city with operators after the summer is over. “We’re going to do a complete review of the program and try to determine what changes could be made to further enhance safety and the overall operations at La Jolla Shores.”