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False Start on Skateboarding Rules

Laguna’s police chief says a proposal to treat skateboarders like bicyclists in an attempt to rein in fast-charging downhillers conflicts with state laws and must be revised.

Since state laws define skateboarders as pedestrians, Police Chief Paul Workman says a draft ordinance on skateboard rules that was scheduled to be heard by the City Council later this month must be reworked. He plans to present his recommendations to resolve the conflicts to the city’s Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee prior to its Dec. 2 meeting, where they will be reviewed publicly.

After earlier hearings initiated by residents pressing for a skateboard ban, the committee recommended “reasonably” applying the same traffic rules to skateboarders that apply to bicyclists.  Due to nebulous wording and the incorrect vehicle-code category, Workman said this week the recommendations couldn’t be enforced.

“You don’t want to contradict a state law,” said Workman of the draft ordinance under review by his department. Instead of trying to fit skateboarders into the bicyclist category, he suggested the committee work within established state regulations to create specific skateboarding laws.

“What they [the PTC] were attempting to say was that the skateboarder couldn’t ride on the sidewalk; then let’s say that,” said Workman. “Let’s not try to use more of a generic term and call them bicyclists.”

Even within the state laws, the city has some leeway to customize.  Workman cited what he described as a unique section of the California Vehicle Code (21967) that allows cities to prohibit skateboarders, and not bicyclists or pedestrians, on certain streets.  “We can prohibit or restrict riding in specific areas of town or all of town if we want,” he said. That same section, he continued, may also give the city “limited authority” to create laws specifically regarding the do’s and don’ts of skateboarding.

“We should be able to create other ordinances that regulate and restrict the skateboarders as a group,” he said.

The PTC’s draft ordinance stated that skateboarders had to follow traffic signals as well as stop, yield, and speed limit signs, just like bicyclists and motorists.  They also had to yield to pedestrians, like bicyclists and motorists, but be yielded to in crosswalks by vehicles, like pedestrians. The draft also stated they could not pass to the right of vehicles when there’s no bike lane and required helmets with front and rear lights at night.

“We’re in virgin territory,” said Curt Bartsch, the PTC’s chairman. “We normally don’t draft ordinances of this magnitude to send to the city council.”

The issue was brought to the PTC last spring by Alan Bernstein, a Bluebird Canyon resident.  “It never made any sense to me anyway to think of skateboarders as bicyclists,” said Bernstein.  “And they’re clearly not pedestrians.”

Bartsch said he’s waiting to see how things play out. “This concern has broader implications that captured the interest of many people in the city,” he said. Several hundred people attended public hearings in July and September.

One unwieldy problem requiring consideration is that skateboarders, unlike pedestrians, have wheels.  “You have two classifications,” Workman delineated.  “You have someone who skateboards at slower speeds; they fit into the pedestrian classification.  A person who’s going downhill and who’s capable of attaining speeds of 50 miles per hour and maybe higher is like a fast-moving object; they’re not a pedestrian.”

Workman said the vehicle code is “a little weak” regarding high-speed downhillers.

“They’re not like kids casually riding their skateboards around at 8 mph,” he explained.  “Now you have somebody on a skateboard operating more like a high-speed vehicle or a high-speed bicycle.  We have these downhillers in Laguna, and Park Avenue, I can imagine, is probably an exceptional street.  They’ve got a good steep grade, it’s a wide street and, depending on conditions, very light traffic.”

Unfortunately, Workman said, the vehicle code considers them pedestrians.  “That doesn’t mean we can’t create other regulations around them,” he said. “There’s plenty of authority in the vehicle code for us to act.  Other cities up and down the coast have done it successfully and there’s no reason why we can’t do the same thing.”

The draft ordinance initially suggested prohibiting skateboarding along Park Avenue, Temple Hills Drive, Summit Drive and Nyes Place.  That section was dropped.

In another enforcement concern, the City Council is reviewing overnight parking restrictions on residential streets neighboring the Mozambique Steakhouse on Agate and South Coast Highway.  Parking may be limited to residents with shopper’s permits on their vehicles, an attempt to curtail late-night noise by prohibiting patrons from parking in the neighborhood.

“Do you think I could convince the council to give me 10 more officers?” Workman said half-jokingly, adding, “There’s different ways of dealing with the problem.  We’re always very dependent on the community reporting behavioral issues,” he said, referring to both new areas of street-use enforcement.

Currently, the department’s five fulltime parking service officers work daytime hours, Sgt. Louise Callus said.

If there are chronic violations, staff could be reassigned, Workman said.

 

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