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Kayaks in Shores are scrutinized

With summer getting closer every day, there is no question that the boat launch at La Jolla Shores is going to get busier. The question is what the boat launch will look like next summer.

Overcrowding has become a consistent problem at the boat launch in recent years, and much of the traffic in the area comes from kayak rental and tour businesses. The city has limited the number of kayak businesses it permits to use the boat launch for the past few years but has no enforcement program for the area.

The city sees this summer as an evaluatory period to determine the specific causes of overcrowding. John Hudkins of San Diego Parks and Recreation said he knows that unlicensed commercial kayak operations are using the boat launch, but he couldn’t say how many. There is also some question about whether the permitted kayak businesses are complying with the terms of their permits.

“We’re going to take an in-depth look at the boat launch as the summer goes along,” Hudkins said. “We’ll decide what the issues are. Are people just leaving the kayaks there too long, are other groups setting up shop out there?”

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The number of kayak customers in the Shores has exploded over the past few years, said Vaughn Woods, a financial planner with an office on Avenida de la Playa.

“Visually, it’s a carnival atmosphere,” Woods said. “People swinging kayak paddles, 60 at a time, putting on wetsuits. This block can become a circus.”

The city has limited the number of permitted kayak operations in La Jolla Shores to 11 for the past few years. But, there is still a general overcrowding situation on the launch itself and the nearby streets, Hudkins said. The main part of the problem is unpermitted businesses operating off of the launch.

“It’s an ongoing issue,” Hudkins said. “That’s the number one thing we’re struggling with. You can set up all kinds of standards and rules and policies, but without enforcement they don’t do much.”

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Oversight of the boat launch transferred last year from the lifeguards to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, and the lifeguards no longer take responsibility for enforcing the permit program at the launch.

“They have a total focus, rightfully so, on lifesaving,” Hudkins said.

Hudkins said he hoped the City Council would consider creating a police or lifeguard position dedicated to enforcing the boat launch permits in the coming months. In order to create such a postiion, the city would have to find the funding.

City Council President Scott Peters is considering increasing the fee for kayak permits and using the revenue to create such a position. The current fee for a commercial kayak operation to use the boat launch is $500 per year.

Last year, the City Council created and funded a new lifeguard position to enforce the permit program for surf instruction schools operating off the beach at La Jolla Shores. The surf camps pay a much steeper fee - $7,500 or 10 percent of revenue - and the money from those concession fees paid for the new enforcement program.

Only nine surf schools have concession agreements with the city, and all were required to submit requests for proposals detailing their programs, business plans and safety procedures. Peters is considering creating a similar program for the kayak operators.

For this summer, however, the same permit situation exists as did the last few years. Eleven kayak businesses are allowed to use the boat launch, and the only restriction on their use is that it is limited to the daylight hours and they can only have 12 boats out at once.

“They can have 12 out at one time, either rented or parts of tours or lessons,” Hudkins said. “So if all 11 groups showed up at once, which doesn’t happen, but if it did that would be 11 groups times 12 kayaks each.”

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There is no limit on the number of customers the businesses can bring to the boat launch on a given day or the number of tours they can run per day. Hudkins said the city would evaluate those factors this summer, as well.

Hudkins said the city would also look at ways to make the streets around the boat launch run more smoothly.

“With people coming down to the launch, a lot of people get lost,” he said. “Some people just drive up and think it’s a parking lot. Maybe we need to get more proactive with signage.”