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Report sheds light on controversial surf contest

ENCINITAS — The decision on whether to hold a surf contest at Swami’s beach has divided the community. While there are strong arguments on all sides, rumors, confusion and misinformation are clouding the waters.
In an effort to clarify some of the issues surrounding the proposed contest, former city planner Bill Weedman prepared an analysis of the event as it relates to the city’s general plan. Weedman, a member of the Self-Realization Fellowship, said he was asked by the group to shed some light on potential impacts of special events at Swami’s on the ashram and the surrounding neighborhood.
City Council directed the Parks and Recreation Commission to solicit public opinion about the feasibility of holding The Women’s World Longboarding Championship at the premiere surf break.
The event’s organizer, world-class surfer and local resident Linda Benson, detailed the logistics of the four-day event at Swami’s in a public hearing Jan. 19. The contest would run Oct. 14 to Oct. 17 with qualifying rounds on Oct. 13 at Moonlight Beach.
No formal application to reserve Swami’s for the contest has been made yet. City policy does not address surf contests or special events on city-operated beaches according to Chris Hazeltine, director of Parks and Recreation. “Every special operations request is decided on a case-by-case basis.” Because Swamis is not designated as “reservable” the decision to issue a special events permit cannot be made administratively.
Brother Anilanananda, a senior monk, said the fellowship has not taken a position on the contest. “We’re interested in the long-term impact on the Encinitas community,” he said. “Our position is one of having a lot of questions at this time.”
Like other stakeholders, there is a question as to whether the surf contest is a one-time event or if it will set a precedent for others to follow. “There’s a giant uncertainty,” Anilanananda said. “Will this be the only event or does it change the historic use of Swami’s?”
The analysis studied whether holding special events at Swami’s is consistent with the city’s general plan. “Instead of having staff look at this one event and decide on a permit, why doesn’t the question of special events go to the Planning Commission?” Weedman suggested.
This process would be more transparent and allow for more public input according to Weedman, who retired after a 20-year career as a city planner. “The use of any park in Encinitas should be looked at in totality,” he said.
Steve Valois, a member of the commission’s sub-committee, along with Doug Goad and Doug Long, was charged with reviewing the feasibility of the surf contest but said he did not read the report submitted by Weedman.
Valois voted Feb. 16 to let the issue of “feasibility” go to City Council for
further discussion. However, he voted against the recommendation letter from the commission to the council “because the language was not strong enough in that Swami’s is a very special place and that the threshold should be higher for permitting than at other beaches.”
“I’m not opposed conceptually to the contest as proposed by Linda (Benson),” he said. “The opportunity is ripe, let’s see where it goes,” adding “It’s not going to be easy, and it shouldn’t be easy.”
Another commissioner, Lorrie Greene, was one of two who voted against recommending sending the issue to the council for consideration of issuing a special permit. Greene said the commission received Weedman’s report during the meeting. While she was not able to read it in its entirety, she said the analysis “makes a lot of good points.”
Weedman submitted the initial analysis as well as a follow-up report to City Council and staff for their review this week.