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OB’s ‘Volleyball Wars’ Over Public Beach Leave the Public Out

By Geoff Page

The use of OB’s sand by a volleyball company to make money is causing unrest among local residents. This was all detailed in The Rag’s February 22 piece. It appeared this problem was recently resolved when the city denied Volo Sports, the subject of the previous Rag story, a permit to use “pop-up” volleyball nets.

The immediate problem, the clear reason why the city denied the permit, was a safety concern raised by the lifeguards. There is no official word from the lifeguards, but it is known that the objection was related to “pop-up” volleyball nets.

It is not difficult to distinguish the security problem when you look at a pop-up net. It consists of a pole and at least two or three guy ropes tied to stakes or buried weights under the sand. When Volo’s business is in full bloom, there is a forest of these guy ropes everywhere.

The city’s permanent volleyball courts, on the other hand, have sturdy single posts sunk into the sand, without guy ropes. The city’s permanent courts are located in two places. There is a series of lanes along the west side of the beach car park from Brighton Street north towards Dog Beach.

There are also four courts to the east of the beach bathroom on Brighton Street, shown in the following image.

This photo also outlines the area in question. Residents say Volo’s pop-up volleyball nets monopolize the beach, making it impossible for anyone else to enjoy that stretch of sand. Volo has since moved into the city’s permanent courts and now monopolizes that area at the expense of other volleyball groups.

The safety issue is apparently a topic of discussion between the volleyball groups and the city. Another volleyball group, Social Beach Volleyball San Diego, has entered the fray.

Social Beach Volleyball San Diego founded the San Diego Beach Volleyball Action Committee. https://sites.google.com/view/sdvb-committee/home to focus this year on volleyball use of the beach, the permitting process and resolving the safety issue so pop-ups can be used. For some reason, the Action Committee is not listed on the Social Beach Volleyball San Diego website.

This Action Committee has met twice with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, once in March and again in April. The website summarizes the first meeting, March 20, as follows:

Minutes

  • Lifeguards were not present
  • P&R referred to lifeguard safety concerns regarding pop-up nets
  • P&R is asking the community to propose a permitting approach that would involve a compromise between interested parties
  • Community members requested permits be reissued to move Volo to OB Back Beach where they can set up pop-ups
  • P&R does not see permits for pop-up nets as a likely solution
  • P&R will contact lifeguards to determine feasibility for Volo to use permitted pop-up nets

(Bullet four expresses a desire to get pop-ups approved so that Volo can be moved back into the disputed area and outside the permanent courts, freeing up the permanent courts for other groups.)

Action points

  • Community will endeavor to establish an advisory board to facilitate communication with P&R
  • P&R will conduct investigations with lifeguards to determine root cause/safety issue and resolution options (including pop-up nets)
  • The community will summarize challenges, legal requirements and permitting solutions

Below is the summary of the April 10 meeting:

  • Update on “Security Issues” regarding Volo’s use of pop-up nets
  • Reassess the permits issued to Volo and work to reopen the city’s facilities for public use
  • Document best practices for the public to use pop-up nets for widespread distribution among volleyball groups
  • Discuss “Beach Volleyball Rules” for challenge courts at SMB and posts at OB and strive for transparency about who needs a permit to use those courts
  • Deep dive into permitting challenges and recommendations curated by community members (see other pages on this site)

Point number two was telling: “Reassess the permits issued to Volo and work to re-open the city’s facilities for public use.” Social Beach Volleyball wants to free Volo’s courts so they can use them.

What does the law say?

Municipal Code of the City of San Diego Article 3: “Public Parks, Playgrounds, Beaches, Tidal Areas and Other Properties,” Section 1: “Use of Park Areas,” §63.0102 “Use of Public Parks and Beaches Regulated,” states:

(c) It is unlawful for any person in a park to do any of the acts listed in Section 63.0102(c) of the San Diego Municipal Code.

(14) Commercial activities and services. Except for expressive activities permitted by Chapter 6, Article 3, Section 5 of this Code and street vending permitted by Chapter 3, Article 6, Section 1, it is unlawful to engage in or engage in commercial activities to provide any service or to request offers. purchasing, exchanging, or requiring someone to negotiate, establish, or pay a fee before providing a service, even if characterized as a donation, without the written approval of the City Manager. Written permission from the City Manager includes commercial activities and services permitted as part of a lease, permit, or other written permission from the City.

Municipal law clearly requires that the permit be signed by the city manager. (Of course, San Diego currently has no city manager.) There is no indication that anyone other than the Parks and Recreation Department was involved in issuing the Volo permit.

There appears to be a lot of confusion about the use of the existing, permanent volleyball courts and the use of drop-down nets, in areas not specifically reserved for volleyball, adds to the confusion.

The essential question is: How much more sand should the city allow volleyball enthusiasts to monopolize, in addition to what the city has provided? Equally important is the question: should a commercial volleyball organization be allowed to profit from the virtually free use of the beach, to the detriment of the beach crowd?

Residents believe that volleyball should be limited to the permanent courts and that the vast expanse of sand previously used with pop-up nets should be left open space for the public to use as they wish. For example, this stretch of beach could be the farthest person from the ocean. Some people like that.

A public records request has been filed asking for communications between the Parks and Recreation Department and Volo and Social Beach Volleyball San Diego. The public deserves to know what deals the city is making with the volleyball groups across OB’s beaches. So far the public has not been involved or informed.