In a 4-1 vote, Laguna Beach’s City Council declared Skyline Drive off-limits to skateboarding, adding a ninth street to a ban imposed on eight others a year ago when the city enacted regulations to restrict skateboarders from “bombing” down hills.
Officials pledged to pursue better solutions, resurrecting the idea of a local skate park, a concept that has eluded Laguna for more than a decade despite efforts at several locations. The ban takes affect July 5.
“Banning’s not really working,” said council member Elizabeth Pearson, who made the motion to prohibit downhill skating on Skyline Drive, a curvy road with 122 driveways, 10 intersections and an eight percent grade starting in the Mystic Hills neighborhood.
Tuesday’s decision came after a year-long review of calls to police that pinpointed Skyline Drive as a source of continuing complaints by motorists as well as a two-month effort by parents supportive of skateboarding to self-police scofflaws, those who disregard rules regarding speeding, protective gear, staying on the right side of the road and heeding traffic regulations.
“I run into a lot of the kids, not literally, and I’ve seen them in a lot of places they’re not supposed to be,” said Pearson, a reference to streets banned to skateboarding last year. “Kids are kids. Our kids are good kids, they’re just being kids.”
Despite the ban, pro-skateboarder Chance Gaul, 15, who showed up after the public comment period on Tuesday, said he’s undeterred. “I’m done following the rules,” he said later. “I’m skating wherever.” Gaul and others blame a small group of reckless neophytes for giving the law-abiding downhillers a bad name.
“It’s a mistake,” said parent Kimberly O’Brien-Young, who supports downhilling. “It’s a behavior issue with a bad bunch of kids.” O’Brien-Young said she tried to persuade parents to meetings to instill the importance of complying but they don’t show. A recent meeting in Bluebird Park drew 70 skateboarders, she said, and 10 parents. “Make the kids breaking the rules pay the price, not the good kids doing the right thing,” she implored the council.
Several skateboarders on Skyline “seem to persist in their efforts to violate the existing regulations and to draw negative attention,” said a report from police Chief Paul Workman, who said 84 citations were given to skateboarding offenders in the past year.
Just six residents spoke on the issue, which has drawn capacity crowds to City Hall in the past. Workman said plans to step up enforcement of skateboarding regulations this summer with seasonal beach patrol officers.
Pearson said she and council member Kelly Boyd are looking into alternatives, such as a designated off-street road or a skate park. A skate park was proposed more than 10 years ago, according to resident Dan Shapero, then-chair of a skate park task force for the local YMCA in Laguna Niguel.
Shapero said dogs won out over kids when his group proposed using the now-city-owned Verizon property adjacent to the dog park on Laguna Canyon Road. Also, he said, “Kids weren’t bombing Park (Avenue) at the time.” Shapero, the father of two sons, said he admires the courage of hill-bombers but admits it’s scary to watch. “Streets are a shared resource,” he said, “but they weren’t designed for skating.”
Pearson said the city has nearly $200,000 available for a designated site, like a skate park, but she estimated that $3 million is needed.
“We need a big company to step forward and someone with a big piece of land if we want to do a skateboard park,” she said. She and Boyd intend to meet with city staff to discuss alternatives.
Council member Toni Iseman, who self-described herself as the least lenient of the council on the issue, said a skate park misses the mark. “The real serious skateboarders say, ‘I won’t go there. They’re no fun. There’s no challenge. That’s not exciting,’ ” she said. “It’s like a bunny slope if you’re a skater. They want black-diamond streets like Nyes Place.” Iseman said she’d like to see skateboards confiscated for an inconvenient length of time.
Council member Verna Rollinger cast the sole vote against the ban. She voiced the consensus opinion of the council, that banning another street will push downhillers to more dangerously narrow and winding roads.
Jamie El-Erian, an attorney who said she’s represented cities and lives near Skyline, has documented violations and said she’s come too close too many times. “I’ve almost killed several children coming up Skyline,” she said, adding that she drives up and down the street eight times a day. If someone is critically hurt, the city’s “on notice,” she cautioned, and may be found liable. “We’re talking about $20 million, which could bankrupt the city,” she said.
Following the deaths of two skateboarders speeding down hills in San Pedro, the Los Angeles City Council proposed a city ban last month specifically on “bombing” steep streets there. El-Erian said she hopes the kids in Laguna move to a street with a lower grade “so that they don’t die and I’m not involved in their death.”