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Cracking Down on Skateboarders Without Helmets

If you’re not wearing a helmet, you may lose your ride on top of paying a fine.

That’s the message the City Council wants to convey to young skateboarders and their parents with a proposed ordinance that would allow police to confiscate skateboards from riders not wearing helmets.

The proposal will return to the council for final consideration at a later meeting.

The recommended ordinance, requested by City Council members Elizabeth Pearson and Toni Iseman, would also require that the skateboards are held for a week for the first offense and a month for subsequent offenses.  If the skateboarder is younger than 18, his or her parents would need to be present before the board is returned.

“I think it’s nuts for these kids to be riding around on our public streets, playing in the streets, without a helmet on, and I saw some yesterday,” said Pearson. “It’s scary.”

Under the new regulation, an officer would decide if counseling or sending the offender to Orange County traffic court and the possibility of more extensive fees are necessary.  Current fees are $25 for first-time offense, $50 for a second offense, $100 for a third and up to $200 if court costs are involved.

The proposed ordinance is an attempt to put some bite in the city’s 18 skateboarding regulations, which prohibit skateboarding on banned streets, at night and in opposing traffic lanes, and require riders  to yield to motorists and refrain from stunts.  But to some residents, it’s just one more rule to squelch free-wheeling expression.

“For 30 years, we’ve had a war on skateboarding,” said local ocean-enthusiast Bruce Hopping.  Hopping recalled when 12-year-old Jim Patricola, now owner of Rothschild’s restaurant in Corona del Mar, was arrested, jailed and fined $60 for skateboarding in the Top of the World neighborhood.

“There was nothing up there,” said Hopping. “What a waste of time and money.  We’ve got better things to do with the police department than chasing 10-year-olds.”  Hopping has consistently suggested a mobile skate park for the city and licensing skateboarders after they know the rules. He agreed with councilmember Pearson that skateboarders need to wear helmets.

Council member Kelly Boyd, previously absent from meetings this summer due to illness, noted that skateboarders typically have back-up. “If you confiscate somebody’s board, he goes back to his garage and he picks one of four other boards and goes right back out and starts skateboarding again,” said Boyd.  “I think Chief Workman would tell you that his police officers have a lot more important things to do.”  Boyd also agreed that helmets are necessary but opposed the proposed confiscation law.

Out of 82 tickets written by officers since Feb. 1 for skateboarding violations, Workman said 60 were issued for not wearing a helmet. Officers usually arrive after a complaint is called in and the moving offense has already occurred, he said. “So typically, we catch them with their helmets off,” Workman said.

“Kids will do what they’re not supposed to do,” commented Iseman, adding that enforcement will eventually change behavior and require less enforcement.

Workman later said the proposed confiscation regulation would not pose a significant burden on his staff but would require additional time and paperwork.

The more serious issue, said Pearson, is instilling the responsibility of wearing helmets more than confiscating skateboards.  “It creates an awareness and it creates an embarrassment on the part of the kids’ parents,” she said.

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