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New kayak process has many wary

The “draft” for kayak time slots was orderly and fair, but it’s going to hurt business.

That was the general consensus shared by participants in the drawing last week to allot 54 one-and-a-half- and two-and-a-half hour time slots for group tours among six La Jolla Shores kayak operators.

One said she expects business could be cut in half.

The city-mandated draft was held because lifeguards say kayak proliferation during busy summer weekends in the Shores now poses a public safety threat that monopolizes lifeguards’ time and needs to be curbed.

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“We’re balancing the public’s interest in people using the (Shores) public boat launch versus the commercial interests,” said San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Rick Wurts who conducted the March 5 draft at Park and Recreation headquarters. “We noticed a particularly impacted situation on summertime weekends.”

Time slots, drawn randomly from a hat included “prime” mostly mid-day and “non-prime” spots early in the day when client demand is low or sunset times, which cut into tour times as days shorten.

La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks drew first, followed by Aqua Adventures, Hike Bike Kayak, San Diego Bike Kayak, La Jolla Kayak and OEX. Each company had a predetermined number of stickers, based largely on how highly they ranked in the city’s application process judging their qualifications.

Each operator drew once. Then the field was reversed, so OEX in the sixth spot got two consecutive picks. At the end of the draft, the six operators were allowed to voluntarily swap time slots, though they couldn’t be sold or given away.

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Lance Peto, whose small company chose first, described the process as “reasonable,” but added it also took him by “surprise.”

“My first selection was an off-peak time,” he noted, “because we had so few (choices) and we couldn’t afford to take a sunset or early-morning slot.”

“It went as expected,” said Angela Teafatiller, who, along with husband David, owns Hike Bike Kayak which drew third in the draft. “You just pick your time slots and go home.”

Now that the draft is over, Teafatiller said the real challenge begins: dealing with it. “It will probably cut everybody (group business) at least in half,” she said. “Some of the big operators didn’t get enough tour slots to accommodate what they had last year. It’s going to cut into our revenues, which in this economy is not great, but we only have 10 boats.”

“We’re seeing a huge reduction in kayak rental numbers which were not involved in the lottery draft,” said Jason Burrows, general manager of La Jolla Kayak, the largest of the six

Shores operators. “Sixty to 75 percent of our rental business has been cut by the RFP process and our kayak tours are reduced by around 20 to 30 percent. We’re definitely on board with ensuring public and customer safety. But we want to make sure there’s not (just) a redistribution of business by the city of San Diego.”

Wurts said the safety problems kayaks cause are in some ways difficult to quantify. “We keep incident slips,” he said, “but that doesn’t pertain to everything we (lifeguards) respond to. For instance, a lifeguard warning a kayak, a preventative act, whether private or a rental, that doesn’t generate a statistic for us. We do preventative acts all day long.”

So far, the new restrictions only apply to weekends from mid-June to Labor Day. But that could change.

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“We’ve made it clear we’ll be evaluating this throughout the summer,” said Wurts, “and that there’s nothing precluding us from putting some type of further restriction on the mid-week days.

Our goal is not to do that if we don’t have to.”