Groms Get 60-Day Reprieve

Judson Vandertoll, 15, left, and Danny Ronson, 14, streak down Park Avenue, one of the street routes where skateboarding is permitted. The council on Tuesday considered a ban on another favorite route.

Blaming it on the younger generation, “older” teenage skateboarders swayed Laguna Beach’s City Council on Tuesday to keep a hilltop street slated for closure open to downhillers.

As a result, Skyline Drive, a narrow, mile-long descent from Thurston Middle School to Park Avenue just above Laguna Beach High School, will undergo a 60-day trial period to see if riders of all ages will follow the city’s rules about skateboarding. These include skateboarding only during the day, stopping at stop signs and yielding to motorists.  The rules, 18 in all, were enacted last April along with a prohibition on skateboarding along eight steep and narrow city streets that resulted from complaints and a petition to ban skateboarding altogether.

Since the ban, however, complaints about downhill skateboarders on Skyline Drive, a favorite route that remained unrestricted, have increased tenfold in contrast to an overall reduction of complaints over the past year, according to a staff report that asked the council to close Skyline Drive.

“When the younger kids started doing it,” said Carter Monacell, 14, a Skyline Drive resident, “I have to admit…, they’ve been quite disrespectful to even us.  They basically think they’re good enough for these hills and they’re basically ruining it for all of us.”  Another Thurston student, Hunter Vandertoll, 13, was concerned that, if more hills are banned, skateboarders might get angry and “turn to the dark side” by skating restricted streets.

The council’s action directed the police department to step up enforcement over the next two months to emphasize safety.  “I think we ought to be more willing to give tickets,” said councilmember Elizabeth Pearson.  “Take your phone, take pictures and take videos, that will help.”

Mark Golter, a professional skateboarder who learned the sport in Laguna and earned a living riding a skateboard, said he’s organizing a meeting Saturday, March 3, to review the regulations with skateboarders.

“We’re very serious about the safety side and where to ride,” he said. “We’re going to take some accountability and provide some pizza.  We respect what you guys have done for us.  We’re going to continue to help regulate that.”  Golter said he fought for an in-town skate park 12 years ago.  “If this town’s not going to provide a skate park, then at least provide some hills.”

Parent Chad Gibbs, who found himself in the middle of the controversy last year and whose house on Oak Street has inadvertently become a hang-out for new skateboarders, agrees with the lock-down on rules.  “There’s so many new skateboarders now and they’re breaking the rules,” Gibbs said before the meeting.  “I think they oughta start writing tickets.”

Police Chief Paul Workman said he increased enforcement over the last month, acknowledging that policing skateboarding is low on the department’s priority list. “We haven’t been real effective,” he told the council. Tickets to offenders 18 years and older start at $25, but for minors a ticket can escalate in cost to $200 due to court and counseling expenses, Workman said.

Mayor Jane Egly said that if the more inexperienced riders don’t learn the rules, the street will be closed.  “We can’t have the residents in cars who are behaving themselves scared to death when somebody does get hurt,” she commented. “They don’t want to see a child harmed.”  Prohibiting skateboarding on Skyline Drive will come before the council again in two months.

The council heard testimony from more than 20 skateboarders and supporters, most in middle school, although there were a few small fry. “It’s about the people and the rules,” said Jude Young, a kindergartner who was held up to the microphone by an older friend.  “That’s why they should give tickets instead of banning stuff.  I like downhill skateboard.  It feels good when you go downhill.”

Gibbs, whose 15-year-old son, Wyatt, is now a professional skateboarder, expressed annoyance by the number of new, inexperienced skateboarders, but he deals with it.  “I back out of my driveway, I try to hit as few as possible and I move on.”  He said more attention is given to rule-breaking skateboarders than to the death of a bicyclist on Park Avenue last October.

He said tolerance has its benefits and likened it to putting up with Taylor Hawkins, the drummer for the Foo Fighters rock band and “probably the most annoying neighbor this town ever saw.” Hawkins lived in the Top of the World neighborhood, where he practiced loudly, Gibbs said.  “We didn’t take Taylor’s passion from him and he won a Grammy about three weeks ago, something we can all be proud of.”

Gibbs’s wife, Jennifer, told the council she was insulted by the staff report on skateboarding, which mentioned their house on Oak Street as a gathering place.  “I resent that the public record insinuates that my family is implicit in creating a nuisance,” she said.  She said the new group of riders doesn’t live on her street.  “Their parents drive them in, dump them off and hit the road,” she said.

Another father, Yudy Vinograd, said skateboarders are being vilified by police.  “Everyday they’re being approached like they’re criminals,” he said.

If another hill is banned, a concern arose that it will cause more skateboarders to impact other streets, and a domino effect of closing streets to skateboarding will occur.

“If you ban Skyline, everyone’s going to go to Park,” said skateboarder Ethan Vinograd.  “When you ban Park, and Nyes is left, everyone’s going to go to Nyes.  It’s going to make it worse for homeowners who live on that street.”

Two of the longest and highest streets in town, Park Avenue and Nyes Place, remain open to downhill skating due to a minimum of side street traffic. Pearson said the council got “a lot of nasty emails saying, ‘Thanks for sending them our way now” when the original eight streets were banned.

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