San Diego

San Diego yoga instructors not down, dog, for beach/park vendor rules; mull legal fight

Yoga is intended to be a peaceful activity, but a recent update to city ordinance is causing much stress and frustration among several yoga instructors

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A group of yoga instructors gathered at Sunset Cliffs Sunday to discuss their potential legal fight against the city of San Diego after recent enforcement has banned them from operating in certain areas unless they have a permit.

The instructors told NBC 7 they are looking for two things: answers from the city and their classes reinstated.

The city was handing out citations Sunday to instructors who weren't abiding by the newly-enforced rules, including to instructors like Steve Hubbard who has been teaching public yoga classes in Pacific Beach for 17 years.

"Now, that is government overreach at its finest right there,” Hubbard said.

According to the city, activities like yoga, fitness classes, and dog training need permits for groups of four or more. Permits are only granted at Mission Bay and Balboa Park but not for the locations where Hubbard teaches his classes, including in Pacific Beach and Sunset Cliffs.

"I refer to it as the best yoga studio in the world. You've got the ocean, the grass, the large bodies of water, which give negative ions, which actually make us feel really, really good,” Hubbard said.

Permit applications need to be submitted 10 days before an event or class and the city is supposed to respond within three days.

Hubbard said the Park Rangers gave him a copy of the municipal code, but when he went online the language in the document they gave him appeared to have been edited, deleting the word "service."

“They are misleading, intentionally, purposely misleading the public, and this is the City of San Diego doing this,” he said.

In a statement to NBC 7 earlier this week, the city said the changes “made to the ordinance in March are in place to ensure these public spaces remain safe and accessible to all users at all times.”

Bryan Pease, a civil rights and environmental attorney working pro-bono with a group of yoga instructors, said the ordinance that was updated earlier this year is the sidewalk vending ordinance.

"Somebody within the city without giving public notice or community outreach or really letting anybody know what was going on, inserted some language in the ordinance about banning yoga gatherings in city parks,” Pease said.

NBC 7 reported in February on amendments being made in city council to the sidewalk vending ordinance and in March that the new ordinance had gone into effect. The amendments include replacing initial warnings with fines. The alterations would also permit the immediate impounding of a vendor’s equipment if the wares pose a health or safety concern.

"Pure speech" activities that were protected in the amendment included:

  • Speaking on a street corner or in a park about a political, ideological or religious topicDistributing brochures
  • Art sales and art creation, including paintings, caricatures, balloon animals, sculpture and other visual arts sold by the artist
  • Distribution or sale of books, music, paintings, photographs, sculpture or CDs or recordings created by the person selling the items
  • Street performances/busking
  • Face painting or henna tattoos

Examples of activities that are not considered “pure speech” under the new amendment:

  • Sales of handcrafts like jewelry and pottery
  • Sales of personal care products, including makeup, lotion, perfume, incense and incense burners
  • Sales of mass-produced items, including clothing and hats
  • Food sales
  • Teaching exercise, yoga, or dog training classes

Attorney Pease said he sent a cease-and-desist letter to the mayor and the city attorney’s office Friday morning.

Several yoga instructors, including Laura Monk, have scheduled a meeting with the city for Friday hoping to get questions answered.

"We want to know what needs to be done so that these can happen and there's no shutdown," Monk said.

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