INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Extra chairs were needed at the city’s regular Commission meeting July 10 as dozens of yoga aficionados turned out to support the idea that yoga should be allowed on the beach and that it doesn’t disturb anybody.
The controversy over the regular Yoga on the Beach arose over a month ago when Mason Allen, a resident of a condo on the beach, complained to the city about the group.
Allen complained that the yoga was a business, advertised on a website, and openly accepted donations. He challenged city officials to enforce the law already in place that prohibited such businesses from operating.
Commissioners agreed that the yoga could not continue until they changed the law and that is what the meeting on July 10 was all about.
Commissioner Ed Hoofnagle began the discussion by saying that the only way to fix outdated laws is to change them.
“Deciding not to enforce laws is not good enough,” he said. “The long-term effect would damage the city. What good are laws if we ignore them or selectively enforce them?”
Tania Reed, the woman who started Yoga on the Beach 18 years ago, said she was taken by surprise when she was told by city officials that she could not hold her yoga class anymore.
“I have asked if I needed a permit many times in the past 18 years,” she said. “I was told no, that we were donation-based.”
“I am not a business. People find out about us online. We operate on donations only. Then I got the call ordering me to cease and desist,” she said.
Reed said yoga was important to many of the people who show up regularly on the beach.
“All who come for yoga fall in love with it,” she said. “Some people call it their sanctuary; it benefits both the mind and the body.”
Anny Tarrant, a regular at Yoga on the Beach, was the first of many to speak on behalf of Reed and the yoga class.
“All this coming together to help a friend is what this is all about,” she said indicating the hall packed with supporters. “We are all friends here.”
Tarrant added that for 18 years Reed operated the program, which, she said, became null and void when that phone call ordered her to stop.
Diana Tobias of Largo said joining the yoga group was a good thing for her.
“My new lady friends are the best I’ve ever had,” she said.
Renee Lee noted that Reed supports the Beach Community Food Pantry with the proceeds from the yoga class.
“We like what she brings to your community,” she said.
Cher Tanner was another supporter who spoke glowingly about her own experience, especially in the beginning.
“I got so giddy I couldn’t wait to get there,” she said. “I made many friends. Yoga is a community jewel; it is a calm and loving practice. You really commune with nature.”
Resident Don House was concerned what might happen if the yoga group was given free rein on the beach.
“Where does it stop?” he asked. “How do we make sure we are doing the right thing?”
He raised the issue of liability and asked the commissioners to stall the proposed ordinance and have a workshop meeting so the matter could be more fully discussed.
Resident Becky Griffin wondered what is considered a business, artists who paint on the beach, or children’s organizations such as Green Kids.
The proposed ordinance dealing with the issue uses the term “commercial gatherings” to cover such groups as the yoga class. It draws the distinction between groups such as nature classes and day camps and outright commercial activities such as IRB Chairs, which rents beach chairs on the beach.
The ordinance would require those groups, in this case the yoga group, to get a permit to operate and pay the city $100 a year. The group would also need a business license and have insurance.
Commissioner Hoofnagle proposed a motion to approve the ordinance. He said the current ordinance has been in place since 1996 and said it was time to change it.
“We live in an age of instant gratification,” he said. “The legislative process is not as fast as you would like it to be.”
Hoofnagle said he hoped a second reading of the ordinance could happen before the commission’s next meeting in August.
Commissioner Phil Wrobel said he was against the ordinance because he was concerned that the beach would become too commercial once the door was open to allow groups to operate.
“We’ve talked of a lot of activity,” he said. “We need to put a lot more into this. Yoga on the beach could be sponsored by the city; it would be good public relations for the city.”
For that Wrobel got a round of applause from the yoga supporters but not from city manager Gregg Mims who later said, “You don’t want to open that door.”
Commissioner Phil Hanna said the issue wasn’t about yoga at all and never was. He said it was an issue of enforcing the law.
“When that gentleman brought up the fact that a commercial activity was operating on the beach we had to do what we had to do,” he said. “We have to represent all the residents of the city.”
Mayor Cookie Kennedy, who at the last meeting voted against the rest of the commissioners over the issue, glossed over their differences.
“I love these guys,” she said referring to the four Commissioners. “They are the best of the best; it is good to have differences of opinions.”
She then voted for the new ordinance with three others. This time it was Wrobel voting alone against the ordinance.
Manager Mims said he would try to get a second reading scheduled for the special budget meeting Tuesday, July 24. If it passes, then the yoga group can apply for a permit and get back on the beach and continue their 18-year-old activity.
A special workshop session will be held Tuesday, July 24, 4 p.m.
Then later that same evening at 7 p.m. there will be a special commission meeting to set the tentative millage rate for the next fiscal year.
In August the regular Commission meeting will be held Monday, Aug. 13, 7 p.m. It was originally scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 14, but had to be changed because Kennedy and Commissioner Nick Palomba would not be available.