By Rita Robinson | LB Indy
Councilman Kelly Boyd is on a mission to find the perfect hill for Laguna Beach’s high-speed skateboarders, aka speedboarders, so they won’t need to pack up their decks and get outta Dodge.
“It’s a plan, if we can pull it together,” said Boyd about his attempt to assuage residents pressing for a speedboarding ban on city streets. But, so far, the first downhill prospect has hit the skids.
At a City Council meeting earlier this month, Boyd announced that the trail into the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park off of Dartmoor Street in North Laguna, Gate 14 to hikers, would be the first hill he would consider. A crowd of skateboard supporters cheered the idea. “I look at that road every morning and every evening and finally I thought that would be a great road for the kids,” he said.
But after surveying the 1.7-mile partly paved trail up to the Vitnik water reservoir with Rich Mathis, manager of operations at the Laguna Beach County Water District, Boyd came away with a different opinion. What he found was that it was too narrow in spots and a concrete culvert along the side could pose a head-on liability.
Now he’s afoot elsewhere, looking for the perfect quarter-mile section of a water-district or fire-access road in other hilly parts of town to provide speedboarders a safe place to “bomb the hill.” Liability, said Renae Hinchey, the water district’s general manager, is a major concern. “Our trucks go up and down that road all the time,” she said of the Vitnik reservoir road.
A better choice, she surmised, is a water district road to an underground reservoir, also a mountain biking trail, in Alta Laguna Park in the Top of the World neighborhood. Besides being more centrally located, she said the Top of the World trail has “some pretty good slope to it” and there’s potentially less liability. “There’s less problem because our guys usually don’t take a truck up there. They usually walk up the trails there; there’s no true road.”
The city maintains the park as well as the water district property at Alta Laguna. The final decision on water district involvement, said Hinchey, rests with its governing board, which meets again on March 22.
Boyd is heading up an informal committee to determine the best way to quell drivers’ concerns about suddenly encountering a sidewalk surfer blurring by on plywood and polyurethane, going for speed and unable to stop. He compares it to 15 years ago when snowboarders were elbowing for slope space with downhill skiers or mountain bikers started dodging nature-communing trail hikers. “The skiers got the biggest part of the slope and the snowboarders had to go off to the side,” said Boyd. “Now it’s almost turned to be an opposite thing.”
Residents, more pro than con, have packed public hearings in recent months, voicing their opinions and concerns. Boyd selected two residents from the pro side, Chad Gibbs, who oversees a local skateboarders’ club that meets in his Oak Street garage, and Mark Golter, a speedboarding world champion who hopes to bring a sanctioned race to Park Avenue. Boyd also chose two from the con side, Alan Bernstein, a retired businessman and advocate of banning speedboarding from city streets, and Gary Jenkins, a pediatrician, as well as two members of the city’s Parking, Traffic and Circulation committee, Ernest Hackman and Curt Bartsch. He said he plans to present his advisory group’s final trail selection at an upcoming City Council meeting.
According to those favoring restrictions or banning the speedboarding phenomenon from Laguna’s streets altogether, there have been too many close calls. Boyd said his committee’s speedboarding opponents have suggested prohibiting the activity on any street with a grade of five percent or less. “That’s almost every street in town,” complained Boyd.
“How many things are we going to restrict?” he continued. “If this is an up-and-coming sport, I think it’s important that we don’t keep taking things away from them. For some kids, this is their sport. How long have they been talking about a skateboard park in Laguna? For years, and it never happened.”
Boyd said a designated speedboaders’ hill might make almost everyone happy, lessening the number of downhillers on city streets. “If the kids had their own road,” he commented, “they would go to it and it would, therefore, take them off the streets and the people in their cars wouldn’t be as worried about hitting some kid.”
Gibbs, father of teenage skateboarder Wyatt, supervises a posse of downhillers out of his Oak Street garage. “We’re not negligent parents letting our kids ride willy-nilly,” said Gibbs. “We’re all for having them regulated, we’re all for having them ticketed for not stopping at stop signs or doing things that are dangerous, and treating them just the same as bicyclers. It’s not fun to mix what they do with cars. But we don’t want to say they can’t skateboard at all.”
Gibbs takes his group of skaters known as the Laguna Beach Alpha Groms to a little-used water district road in San Clemente nearly every weekend. He supports his son in choosing board over bored. “He’s outside doing exercise, he’s not doing drugs, he’s not doing alcohol, he’s not obese, he’s not sitting at the computer. I’m not saying that what he’s doing isn’t without its inherent risks but I’m willing to chance him risking something outside better than doing all these other things,” said Gibbs.
“But they’re teenagers, you tell them to wipe their feet and they don’t do that either.”