50 gather to protest closing the dune
Protesters against banning exercise on the sand dune showed their numbers Sunday at a “Free the Dune” rally put on by Citizens for Outdoor Exercise and Recreation (CORE).
The group of roughly 50 ralliers met at 26th St. and The Strand at 2 p.m. before marching up 33rd St. to Sand Dune Park, chanting “Free the dune” and waving signs that read “Don’t kill the hill” and “The dune belongs to everyone.”
Olympian and AVP volleyball player Kerri Walsh of Hermosa Beach donated a signed volleyball to be used as a giveaway by CORE for the event.
“The people of Manhattan Beach want [the dune] open,” said resident and CORE co-founder Jake Rome. “Look at all the people.”
The City Council temporarily closed the dune last summer due to intense traffic through the quiet neighborhood in which it is situated. In January the council said the dune would not be reopened as a workout facility. The dune’s fate will be decided at a council meeting next month.
“We want to find some kind of compromise to open the sand dune,” said resident Bill Hory, CORE president and co-founder.
Before the council’s decision, public discussion about the fate of the dune had been dominated by a group of roughly 50 tight knit, well organized and, at times, outraged neighbors who demanded that exercise on the dune be banned.
Only a handful of residents had spoken out in support of reopening the dune to workouts.
“The misperception is that most people want the dune closed,” Rome said.
He hoped that Sunday’s rally would prove that to be untrue.
All hands went up when Hory asked who among attendees wanted to reopen the dune to exercise. The majority raised their hands again when he asked who lived within the city.
“The vast majority of Manhattan Beach wants their leadership to find solutions to the overuse that occurs at peak periods,” Hory said in a statement. “We came together to form CORE and free the dune when we realized we could not sit idly by and let peaceful exercise literally become a crime in our parks.”
Rome said that CORE collected 120 signatures at the rally in support of reopening the dune to exercise.
Opponents to dune exercise were, for the most part, absent from the rally.
“The council has given its opinion in January that the dune will not be reopened for exercise use,” said resident Faith Lyons. “The rally won’t change this. So, we will not be there, at least not as an organized group.”
During the beach portion of the rally, a man passing by briefly argued with protesters.
“We love exercising on the dune,” said resident Elise Johnson, who attended the rally. “We certainly empathize with the neighbors in the immediate vicinity, but we’d like to keep it open…It’s a public park; it should be open to the public.”
The dune was not intended as a workout facility when the park opened in 1960s. In the late ‘90s, however, reports of its high intensity, low impact workouts popularized the dune throughout the LA area. A heavy increase in traffic followed, along with noise, litter, cars speeding through the neighborhood and confrontations between dune-users and neighbors.
Last summer, dune traffic reached 9,000 people per month and neighbors reached their boiling point.
The City Council closed the dune in August and considered reopening it to exercisers with a paid reservation system, a parking permit program, parking meters or limited hours.
Concerns over costs, enforcement feasibility and environmental impact led the council to scrap reopening the dune as a workout facility. They directed staff to conduct a geological survey and find design options with native plants.
“We here in the City of Manhattan Beach are saying that we refuse to let Los Angeles utilize this small piece of land here in our city as their workout facility,” said Mayor Mitch Ward at the January meeting. “It is overrunning us.”
Among alternatives discussed at the meeting were the restriction of the dune to children and the installation of switchbacks and greenery that would create zigzagging trails, limiting the number of people on the dune at a time.
“I don’t want to narrow it down to three, four, five people,” Ward said at the meeting. “I want to see two or three people walking up at a time enjoying a beautiful nature preserve.”
After the council’s decision, Rome and Hory founded CORE in January to advocate for parks and healthy lifestyles within the city, with the dune as the first item on their agenda.
“We want to change [the City Council’s] direction,” Rome said Sunday. “We want to demonstrate that a majority want to keep it open — a large majority.”
Prior to the rally, CORE claimed to have collected 450 petition signatures from Manhattan Beach residents who want to reopen the dune for exercise with restrictions.
Joanne Edgerton, member of the Beach Cities Health District board of directors, said that the dune is important in the fight against obesity and “almost mystical” in getting people to push their physical limits.
“As a steward for public health, I really felt compelled to stand up and speak out in support of the sand dune,” Edgerton said.
Resident and CORE member Todd DiPaola argued that closing a public facility due to its popularity may set a dangerous precedent.
“It’s a slippery slope,” DiPaola said. “Do you shut down the downtown area and have less traffic?”
Ward attended the rally and commended the group for supporting physical fitness.
“This is the democratic process,” he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Richard Montgomery said that the rally reinforced dozens of emails he has already received from dune exercise supporters.
Even if the dune is turned into a nature preserve, dune workout opponents remain skeptical it will solve the problems.
“Everybody is advocating repurposing the dune,” said resident Mark Kemple. “You have to find a new use — one that doesn’t attract large crowds. That won’t work unless you post ‘No exercise’ signs.”
Hory said that CORE advocates reopening the dune with a change in operational hours, especially during peak times.
“From day one, we’ve acknowledged there is an issue there,” Hory said. “At the root of it is numbers. So you have to reduce the numbers and everything else decreases.”
The City Council will next discuss the subject at its April 13 meeting.
“We all agree we don’t want it to be what it was before,” Montgomery said. “There can never be 9,000 people there in one month again.”
For more information about CORE, visit www.sanddunepark.com. ER