With crowds of Laguna Beach skateboarders conspicuously absent, the City Council voted 4-1 this past Tuesday to finalize a local law that allows police to confiscate skateboards if any rider, regardless of age, isn’t wearing a helmet. The law will take effect on Dec. 13; the police department will report results from its enactment next year.
In numerous previous meetings where skateboarding regulations were debated and enacted, skateboarders young and old, amateur and professional crowded council chambers proclaiming that skateboarding is not a crime and protesting restrictions.
The skateboard confiscation law brings city rules regarding skateboarding to 19. On first offense, the skateboard will be held at the police station for a week. With repeated offenses, the skateboard is out of commission for a month.
The new law, recommended by council members Elizabeth Pearson and Toni Iseman, also requires that a parent accompany minors reclaiming their boards.
Imposing regulations in a town well-known for thrilling downhill rides has recently drawn national media attention, but local skateboarders were noticeably missing from the limelight Tuesday in protest against feeling targeted by increasing restrictions, said skateboarding supporter and parent Chad Gibbs.
Gibbs said the all-ages helmet and confiscation law should also apply to bicyclists. “Where’s the fervor over biking?” said Gibbs in a later interview, suggesting the new rules discriminate by singling out skateboarders. “They feel like they’re being bullied,” said the 46-year resident, whose son is an award-winning skateboarder. “You keep pigeon-holing them like that, they’re going to rebel.”
Council member Iseman addressed the difference between the way bicyclists and skateboarders ride, noting that skateboarders tend to be more gregarious fun-seekers while traveling. “It just seems to me that involving the parent is going to save lives,” she said.
Gibbs said the majority of skateboarders are honorable kids as well as good students. But laws regarding skateboarding “perpetuate the mystique of the skateboarder being the rebel and the bad guy,” he said, which may serve to encourage kids to disregard regulations. He said that community debate has instilled more self-discipline with skateboarders adhering to traffic laws and wearing safety gear.
The four council members supporting the confiscation ordinance cited safety as their motivation.
“It’s not to be punitive although it sounds like it,” commented Mayor Jane Egly.
Council member Kelly Boyd cast the dissenting vote, saying the law was a poor use of law enforcement’s time and energy. “How much time are we taking that police officer off the streets by confiscating this skateboard from this child?” he asked rhetorically.
“Some kid’s going to get injured really bad sooner or later,” he predicted. “It’s not going to be the fault of the City Council. It’s going to be the fault of the parents for not making sure the child is doing what they’re supposed to be doing. We’re asking the police to literally become babysitters.”
Police Chief Paul Workman estimated that it takes 30 minutes of an officer’s time to write reports and fill out forms for each skateboard confiscated and held at the police department. He told the council that ticketing for lack of a helmet was the most frequently written skateboarding violation. Workman said 30 no-helmet tickets were issued over a recent six-month timeframe; 60 were issued from February to April, according to Workman’s earlier reports.
Gibbs and long-time waterman and philanthropist Bruce Hopping, two of only three residents speaking on the subject, encouraged the council to establish a skate park rather than enforce more rules for street riding.
“We keep taking and taking and taking from these kids and it’s time to give,” said Gibbs, citing towns from Squamish, British Columbia, to Weed, Calif., that offer skate parks. “It doesn’t have to be this grandiose thing, a few ramps, a few rails, a skate bowl, and the kids will flock there.”
In past meetings, however, council members have noted that skateboarders prefer hills, the steeper the better. Gibbs said that downhill skateboarders easily transition to ramps and rails. A skate park, he said, will “keep them off the streets.”
California state law requires helmets for skateboarders under 18. The county district attorney’s office verified that municipalities can require further restrictions under a local ordinance.
“Educate rather than confiscate” suggested Katherine Doe, a regular council meeting attendee who said she’s fighting the city over several arrests she’s experienced. “It’s really about freedom…and the way law is enforced in Laguna Beach.”
Fines for not wearing a helmet start at $25 and increase to $50 for the second offense and $100 for subsequent offenses. The county requires $280 for traffic court fees for not wearing a helmet but Workman said requiring a counseling session for each local violator defers the county traffic court appearance and keeps the fines low.
Correction: The council’s action was the initial reading of the ordinance. A second reading is scheduled for Nov. 13.