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San Diego tightens regulations on beach yoga, sparking backlash from instructors

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Posted at 11:07 PM, May 12, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The City of San Diego is cracking down on free beach yoga classes, following recent revisions to the municipal code.

Amy Baack, a yoga instructor who has been leading free classes at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park for several years, faced disruption on Wednesday as park rangers shut down her class as it was beginning.

Baack and a group of instructors are pushing back, hoping that yoga activities will be allowed at Sunset Cliffs.

"It's an incredible space. I think it is one of the most unique spots in all of San Diego," she said.

Similarly, Jamie Inn, another yoga instructor, had to inform her class attendees of the cancellation of her session Sunday morning.

"We've all tried to spread the word that class has been canceled," Inn said, pointing out that several people stayed and did yoga on their own.

The City of San Diego is enforcing an ordinance it revised in March, primarily targeting compliance with sidewalk vending regulations. Officials laid out a permitting process, which dictates parks where people can hold classes. Sunset Cliffs, however, is not mentioned.

"I keep saying, I thought it was hot dog vendor, and all of a sudden, it's yoga teachers too, mom groups, and sign language classes in the park (that are restricted)," yoga instructor Jackie Kowalik said.

The yoga teachers said their classes are free, though attendees can donate if they want. They insist they aren't selling anything, and that their classes follow another rule under city code, being kept under 50 people.

"We need support from our community to continue to advocate for our right to gather, for our right to honor this reciprocity with the land to speak our free speech," instructor Ray Pakif added.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the city told ABC 10News an activity with more than four people requires a permit.

"The City of San Diego’s Municipal Code prohibits groups consisting of four or more people engaged in commercial recreational activities like yoga, fitness classes and dog training from gathering in parks without a permit and can only operate in certain designated areas. Picnics and other gatherings of 50 or more also require a permit in parks, beaches and bay. The applicable municipal code (SDMC 63.0102) has been in effect since 1993, and recent updates to the policy have clarified the activities for which necessary permitting applies. These updates went into effect March 29 and are in place to ensure these public spaces remain safe and accessible to all users at all times. Park Rangers, police and lifeguards have the authority to enforce these codes to ensure public safety in San Diego’s parks and beaches."

But the instructors said there is no permit for Sunset Cliffs, where they conduct their sessions.

All four said they want to comply with the law but need the opportunity to get a permit.

They added that yoga is not their primary source of income, and the law is being used in the wrong way.

"It's really tragic that the city would take away the opportunity to come to a class for free, to be outside in a public park, and to enjoy nature. We are perfectly willing and ready to get a permit if the city would allow it," Baack said.

The instructors said they all carry their own liability insurance. They have spoken with a civil rights attorney and said they hope to speak with the city council about the ordinance soon.