Fearing more traffic congestion and heart-stopping driving encounters with downhill skateboarders, Arch Beach Heights residents voiced overwhelming opposition to the addition of a skateboard park atop one of Laguna Beach’s steepest inclines despite testimonials from one of the best-known park builders, the Tony Hawk Foundation.
After 90 minutes of comment from about 150 people, City Council member Steve Dicterow raised a white flag, expressing disappointment but saying he would drop consideration of Moulton Meadows Park. “We’ve got to find where it makes sense,” he told the crowd milling on the basketball court last Thursday. Easels held enlarged aerial photos of the existing soccer field with two potential sites circled, ranging in size from 9,000 to 12,000 square feet.
Dicterow, along with Mayor Kelly Boyd, who comprise a council subcommittee that began investigating a skatepark last year, sent an invitation to about 500 residents by letter earlier this month to attend an informal meeting. “Nothing’s been decided,” Dicterow said at the outset. “This is one site we’ve come up with. It may or may not be a solvable dilemma; your input will influence it,” he promised
And while the majority of Arch Beach residents expressed hostility to the possibility of adding a park outside the goal boxes of the hilltop soccer field, Dicterow vowed to continue the search. “I’ll never give up,” he said, noting that a skateboard park was second only to view preservation among the top priorities of constituents he spoke to during last November’s council campaign.
As a measure of the issue’s contentiousness, Laguna, which already restricts skateboarders from downtown streets and parks, extended a ban in recent years to nine curving public streets favored by downhill speedboarders. And champions for a skateboard park have come and gone. One of the first to pick up the torch was Wayne Peterson, campaigning for office in 1992, recalled Norm Grossman, a planning commissioner who lives opposite Moulton Meadows and attended the outdoor meeting.
Resident Bill Bedsworth suggested a skatepark would exacerbate encounters and accidents with downhill daredevils, tempted by the steep streets descending from the park. “If you put a bunch of adolescent boys in a park and say ‘stay here,’ you’ll be paying a seven-figure settlement or a 10-figure jury verdict,” he predicted.
Karl Schuler, a retired police lieutenant, described a significant rise in calls for police service after a Costa Mesa skatepark opened. “I’m speaking from experience; this is not the venue for it,” he said.
Lori Mitsuka asked “what makes this the right place? How many others were considered?”
And Lee Kucera voiced a still-smoldering resentment harbored by some longtime residents over Moulton’s evolution from a “passive” park with only curbside parking into a well-used venue for team sports. Not only must residents contend with an influx of parents’ cars, which jam narrow streets, but “we hear every basketball and tennis ball,” Kucera said. Because many Arch Beach homes fill narrow 25-foot wide lots, most lack gardens, she pointed out. “This is our backyard.”
Kimberly O’Brien Young was in the minority in voicing support for a skatepark, pointing out that the Moulton adjacent neighborhood holds the city’s largest population of children. “Give us someplace where we are safe,” argued her son, 14-year-old Sam Dameshak. Her husband Ben suggested putting the issue to a citywide vote, an idea that elicited boos from those present.
The well-used recreation area has adequate un-utilized space, the top criteria for a prospective site, explained Miki Vuckovich, executive director of the Vista-based Tony Hawk Foundation, which has helped fund 500 public skate parks in low-income areas.
“We were trying to cut to the chase based on our experience,” Pat Hawk, a board member of the foundation her brother established, said afterwards. Hawk said she instigated the discussion with subcommittee members.
Two other sites were briefly considered, said foundation development director Kim Novick, a local resident. Alta Laguna Park in the Top of the World neighborhood lacks unused space; some area would have to be repurposed to make room for a skatepark park, she said. Land in Laguna Canyon near Anneliese’s school was rejected due to the proximity to school congestion, she said.