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Kayak operators joining forces

Organizing effort aims for unified front

With growing concern over the city’s proposal to institute a lottery-like system restricting kayak numbers during busy summer weekends, La Jolla Shores kayak operators are talking about forming an association to speak with one voice.

“We’re forming an association we feel is overdue,” said John Metzger, owner of OEX Kayak Center at 2158 Avenida de la Playa, “because we all want the same thing - to be able to run our businesses. Working together will help us do that. Each of the permitted kayak operators have similar, but different, business models.”

OEX is one of eight permit holders -six in La Jolla Shores - allowed by the city to rent ocean kayaks for both individuals and group tours.

Summer kayak proliferation at the city’s only public ocean boat launch at La Jolla Shores is “chaotic,” Metzger said.

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But he added that he disagrees that the city’s proposal, advanced Aug. 5, will bring order to the chaos.

As proposed, there would be a “draft” for eligible kayak permit holders allowing them to select time slots between 6:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. on summer weekends, beginning next year.

“Something needs to be done,” said Metzer, “but everyone’s got their own idea as to what that needs to be. One thing is clear: A wrong plan, which focuses on across-the-board restrictions, is not going to do what it’s intended to do.”

Divvying up time slots among kayak operators without regard to their size or longevity is only going to work to the disadvantage of larger operators, said Metzger, who believes they’ll be forced to use waiting lists to accommodate demand.

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San Diego Lifeguard Capt. Rick Wurts in an interview last week said it’s actually wrong to refer to the city’s proposal to limit kayak numbers on peak summer weekends as a lottery.

“It’s just to pick the draft order for the number of companies who will be selecting their time slots,” he said.

Wurts said the city’s request for proposal, now being developed by the Real Estate Assets Department, should be out soon. He added the city is listening, and responding, to kayak operators’ concerns.

“We’re going to evaluate that feedback,” he said, “and there will likely be some minor modifications.”

One example of that feedback provided is a point made by one kayak company that it doesn’t need to do a lot of group tours, just longer ones, he said.

“They said their tours need to be more like three hours than an hour and a half,” said Wurts. “We see that as a reasonable request. We can accommodate these kind of requests, as long as we don’t sacrifice safety.”

Wurts said, according to statistics compiled by lifeguards, that there were 72 kayak-related incidents accounting for 98 victims in 2006, 104 incidents with 145 victims in 2007 and, through Aug. 31 in 2008, there have been 106 kayak-related incidents with 114 victims.

“Our position is the current (city RFP) proposal does not address the issues as stated by the community at all,” said Jim Heaton, La Jolla Shores Association chair. “It addresses one issue: safety at the boat launch. It doesn’t address the corporate responsibilities of kayak operators, the safety of people on Avenida de la Playa or the use of public lands for commercial use.”

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