Kayak permit scuttled?

By Jeff Knebel


La Jolla Shores Association (LJSA), on behalf of numerous area residents and businessowners, is asking San Diego city officials to retract and/or amend its recently issued concession agreement system for the La Jolla Shores kayak-rental industry - the fifth largest tourist activity in the county.

The new system was designed to lower weekend congestion associated with kayakers at the La Jolla Shores boat launch area by placing limitations on the number of kayak rentals operators are allowed during the mid-June to Labor Day peak tourist season.

Over the past several years the number of kayaks used by commercial operators has increased, raising concerns about water safety, congestion at the boat launch ramp and vehicle and pedestrian traffic on Avenida De La Playa.

Time-slot licenses allowing businesses operational privileges have been distributed among the several kayak rental businesses based upon a number of factors recently requested by the city from the operators.

The problem is recognized by the LJSA, where boardmembers collectively agree that a solution to the issue is absolutely necessary. The problem, said LJSA Chairman Jim Heaton, is that the lottery-like system, which has placed regulations on and redistributed the total amount of kayak rental business allowed, is ultimately flawed and will have lasting negative affects on the La Jolla Shores community and surrounding businesses.

The selection process, according to Heaton, did not take into consideration factors such as the length of time an operator has been in business, their location or an operator’s historical volume. He also reported that a recent request to the city for information on the selection criteria, and those individuals who made the decisions, was denied.

“There is essentially a sense of outrage in the community,” he said. “As a result of this action a number of operators have been put out of business, ones that were not in business at the time have been gifted licenses, and there has been a wholesale redistribution of the business from one operator to another. Yet, there has been no offering as to who made these decisions and how they were made.”

One Shores kayak operator, Doug Marshall, owner of La Jolla Surf Systems, a nearly 30-year-old business and one of the first to rent kayaks, was notified his kayak application was apparently denied in the city’s recent Request For Proposals (RFP) process. Marshall has subsequently appealed that decision.

“I’m still able to do business,” he said, “but I don’t really know what’s going on. I don’t know whether I’m going to get a permit or not. It’s sort of shaky.”

Marshall questioned the validity of the RFP process. “I’m a little surf shop on the corner for 30 years involved with kayaks from the start who lives in the Shores who is just trying to make a living,” he said. “There’s been no transparency in this application process.”

Marshall said it was apparent to him that considerations, like the longevity of the business, didn’t weigh heavily in the city’s application process. “I think they (city) were more concerned about the amount of money they could possibly generate, rather than thinking about the neighborhood,” he said. “I thought the city was supposed to be business-friendly. Why would they shut down a 30-year-old business, and give a permit to a 2-year-old business?”

The city of San Diego’s Real Estate Assets Division, which coordinated the recent Shores kayak RFP application process, could not be reached for comment to discuss what criteria their panel of judges used to review kayak operator applications.

Staff Writer Dave Schwab contributed to this story.