Median at Center of Dispute in Santa Monica

Residents complain about 'commercial misuse,' trash, public urination

SANTA MONICA -- Some residents say a street median has become too popular among the workout set, turning their quiet chunk of seaside bliss into a loud and crowded money-maker. But others hope the city doesn't go too far trying to fix the problem.

The median sits along 4th Street, at Adelaide Drive -- a popular location for joggers, power-walkers and now trainers. Over the last year or so, residents have sent photos to city officials, complaining that people have been running athletic "businesses" on the twenty-foot wide swath of green grass, everything from kick-boxing classes, aerobic groups, yoga and pilates. There's even a photo of a man who had set up a massage table.

Among other complaints, residents say the users make noise with boom-boxes, leave behind empty water bottles and even urinate in the area.

Joggers say the median has become so popular because of its proximity to two sets of stairs that descend at a steep angle to the breathtaking Santa Monica Canyon neighborhood. But an ordinance, written in 1970, restricts usage of the green strip above to only two activities -- jogging and walking -- and lately, because of resident complaints, that law is being enforced daily.

"It's obvious that the medians are being used for more than just walking and jogging," said Lee Swain, Santa Monica's director of public works.

Officials admit that it's difficult to discern between those who are using the median for commercial purposes and those who are not.

Some residents, like Jim Birch, say they're concerned about the city's approach to the problem. He's been using the median for two decades to stretch before running and do abdominal crunches. But he's never used it to make money. He recently staged a minor protest, of sorts, on camera, demonstrating how easy it is to break the law by doing simple exercises on the grass.

A police officer and park ranger show up in the video, question him, then cite him $158 dollars.

"I look at this as discrimination," said Birch, "against a private individual using a public parkway."

City officials were scheduled to meet with members of the public Thursday night to hear all sides in this brewing controversy. The meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Santa Monica Public Library at 6th and Santa Monica.

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