Palisades Park: A Tragedy of the Commons

It's not the controversy but the catastrophe we need to worry about

A tragedy of the commons is the unsustainable depletion of a shared resource

 The tragedy occurs when indiviiduals shared a natural resource, and by their unsustainable use, deplete it.


A tragedy of the commons occurs:


—when individuals act independently and rationally according to each one's self-interest

—despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary

—to the group's long-term best interests.  




In Palisades Park a tragedy of the commons is currently occurring as active adults ignore their personal impact on the park.


They do not obseve their imprint and take the land for granted. The abuse to the land, its soils and grasses and bluffs, is well documented in photos and personal observations provided here. 


The tragedy is in the destruction to the park's lawns and soil, a destruction which also threatens the bluffs.


 "Having a self-interest" in one of the most beautiful parks in the west is hardly a negative aspersion. It is totally rational.


Such self-interest may be born out of a personal love, a physical pleasure, a poetic pursuit, a photographer's delight, a monetary duty, or a combination of all of these. 

It is a tragedy because it is unsustainable and destructive.
It is a tragedy because it is unsustainable and destructive.

The Park simply cannot sustain the combined impact from all who use it: tourists, residents, athletes, poets, lovers, and, especially trainers.


Trainers make the biggest impact because their unique use of the landscape entails a heavy and repeated pounding on the lawns and soils, an activity which compacts the soils. 

Because Palisades Park is already on the edge, its sustainability is a fundamental issue


With its thin profile and fragile ecosystem Palisades Park barely clings to the edge of our city.


Due to its unique geology and highly erodible soils the Park wastes away, bit by bit, every year.  


At left the Idaho path to California Incline, 2013.


Palisades Park is, essentially, a park with a death sentence.


It would be both tragic and ironic if humans, the ones who benefit the most from this wonderful marvel, were to push it over the side and onto the highway. 

What is a Sustainable Landscape?


In short, those who manage the shared resource must preserve it wisely and manage the resource sustainably.

From a city workshop on "Sustainable Landscapes"
Workshop 3a Sustainable Landscapes.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 6.2 MB



"To Preserve and restore a site's ecological sustainability is to preserve and restore its ecosystem services..."


"Interconnected systems key to ecological sustainability."

How to Solve a Tragedy of the Commons and Maintain Sustainability

Economists propose two basic solutions to a tragedy of the commons:

1. Individuals Agree to Sustainable Use


For example: runners, athletes, and trainers can adapt more sustainable practices.


Friends of Palisades Park offers several proposals on how an active Santa Monican can enjoy Palisades Park in a sustainable way. 


See: Active and Sustainable in Santa Monica


See also: A Runner's Pledge to Sustainability


See also: Trainers Certificate of Sustainability



2. Managers Regulate for Sustainable Use


In any tragedy of the commons it is ultimately the managers' responsibility to intervene if individuals do not behave sustainably. The managers must step up to the plate and develop a serious plan. 


In the last three years the issue of trainers and their impact on the land has come to a head at Palisades Park where the degradation and depletion of a natural resource runs unabated.  Regulations on this use currently do not exist.



A New Plan of Sustainability for Palisades Park

Runners above enjoy the parks views, natural beauty, and do so sustainably

A sustainable athlete in Palisades Park
A sustainable athlete in Palisades Park

For many years the City* has wrangled over how to regulate the intense use of Santa Monica's open spaces. Formerly the issues was a fight over intense use of the Santa Monica stairs and northern fourth street median.**


 *City Council, Recreation and Parks Commission, city staff, trainers, and residents


**See 2008 NY Times Article

Is it possible that city regulations forced the trainers to gravitate towards Palisades Park?

Education is one key ingredient: Temescal Park
Education is one key ingredient: Temescal Park


Managers must not only regulate unsustainable practices, they must also educate. Signage is both effective and inexpensive. 


Friends of Palisades Park recommend that the city utilize more educational practices at Palisades Park.



See more recommendations for sustainability.

Six key ingredients to a sustainable park

Friends of Palisades Park offer six key steps towards a positive open space regulation for Palisades Park:


1. Establish a Moratorium.

2. Scientifically monitor and evaluate the impacts of unsustainable use. 

3. Develop guidelines on sustainable park use, especially for trainers.

4. Educate: use media to inform the public on sustainable use— especially on fragile and environmentally sensitive parks.

5. Protect and restore degraded landscapes.

6. Provide incentives for trainers to behave sustainably: e.g. A Certificate of Sustainability


 see our detailed plan: Six Steps Toward a Greener, More Sustainable Palisades Park




Santa Monica Mirror

February 2013


Santa Monica Personal Trainers To Protest Fees

Jogging Running Only sign
Jogging Running Only sign


CBS News TV, February, 2009


"Santa Monica's Disputed Steps".  February, 2009.

City documents about trainers in Palisades Park



Since January, 2012, in response to community concerns, the city has discussed the issue of trainers in Palisades Park. 




On June 22, 2013 the Recreation and Parks Commission took a stand on the side of sustainability and recommended to City Council to prohibit commercial trainers in Palisades Park. 


October 8, 2013 City Council to act on Commission's recommendation.


January 2012

A Community Calling for Sustainability

Staff provides an overview of options
Staff Park Powepoint.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 1.2 MB

During its January 19, 2012 meeting, the Recreation and Parks Commission reviews the list of community concerns at right.


The Commission recommends that City Council request staff to develop a regulatory system and suggested that staff research legal precedents and how other cities handle the issue and consider a lottery system and time and site limits for various activities. 

April 10, 2012

Staff Presents City Council with New Regulations
City of Santa Monica - Options for Addre
HTML Document 298.4 KB

On April 10, 2012, staff brings community concerns to the City Council, and asked for direction. Council directed staff to return with options for addressing community concerns related to fitness classes and large equipment in the parks and at the beach. 

April 23, 2012

 In their April 23 meeting City Council is offered a new regulatory structure that would limit trainers at Palisades Park to private groups consisting of 1 trainer to 1 trainee, or 1-2 trainees. 


November, 2012

Staff Presents Commission with Options
Staff Reports to Recreation and Park Com
Adobe Acrobat Document 519.3 KB

Staff reports to Recreation and Parks Commission 


Provides option for limiting trainers at Palisades Park

June 20, 2013

At Recreation and Parks Commission Meeting

Staff Revisions to Regulations 6 20 13.p
Adobe Acrobat Document 2.9 MB

Staff reverses original proposals!


Offers unlimited opportunities for group training in Palisades Park! No proposals for mitigating their impact!



The Community Concerns

Quotations from Staff Report (at left)


"For several years, community members have regularly complained to staff about the proliferation of unregulated fitness training, boot camps and sports coaching in the parks and at the beach."


"Community members have expressed the following concerns:

  • Businesses are making a profit on City land without compensation to the City 


  • The City is at risk for allowing businesses to operate without insurance; 


  • Fitness groups impede pedestrians seeking to use paths; 


  • Fitness groups prevent the public from using park and beach areas and amenities; 


  • Instructors and their clients exercise by attaching exercise bands to park light poles, railings, picnic tables, park benches and trees which can cause damage
  • Fitness trainers, seeking to motivate their clients, yell loudly and disturb nearby residents, especially during early morning hours. "


June 20, 2013

Friends of Palisades Park Makes Original Proposal

Presents analysis and recommendations

Palisades Park: A Tragedy of the Commons
RPC June 2013 v.10 Finalc.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 2.0 MB

June 20, 2013

Recreation and Parks Commission Recommends Sustainability to City Council


Although they agree with the many points of the original staff proposals, they do so with one notable exception:


Prohibit Commercial Trainers from Palisades Park.