Bombing Hills Becoming a Bygone Pastime
After hearing nearly three hours of requests to stop a ban against skateboarding on steep streets in Laguna Beach, the City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to move ahead with prohibiting downhill skateboarding on eight blocks with grades of five percent or higher.
The council’s action gives preliminary approval to requiring that skateboarders go no faster than 25 mph, ride on the right side of the road without traversing over the center line, obey all stop signs, remain upright while skateboarding and refrain from skateboarding at night. Councilwoman Verna Rollinger opposed any street bans without a six-month trial on the new rules first but later joined the vote proposing prohibitions on certain streets.
“I don’t know where this came from that we want to ban skateboarding,” said councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson. “We want to ban it on the most dangerous streets.” When the council initially discussed the issue last month, four streets were singled out as off-limits for skateboarding: Alta Vista Way, Summit Drive and a section of Morningside Drive, and Bluebird Canyon Drive between Morningside Drive and Cress Street. Additional banned streets now being considered are the Third Street hill, the upper end of Diamond Street, Crestview Drive and Temple Hills Drive. The entire length of Nyes Place was left open to skateboarders who follow the new road rules.
The council is also considering two roads as designated downhill skateboard runs: the police firearms range road behind the Festival of Arts grounds and an access road bordering a view park off of Quivera Street in Arch Beach Heights. Both roads are about 15-second runs, say skaters. Shooing skaters off the firing range road, said Laguna Police Employees Assn. president Larry Bammer, creates a problem.
“It’s closed for police access only for training,” he told the council. “We routinely go up there to sight-in our rifles.” Bammer said his association opposes using the firing range road for downhill skateboarding, citing potential hazards as well as its short length, the expense of a needed fence and noise concerns to Pageant of the Masters performances below.
The proposed downhill skateboarding restrictions are “discriminatory,” according to Noah Hunt, 16, a skateboarder who asked the council to consider facts rather than the emotional issues. “They’re not banning streets for bicyclists.” More than 1,000 residents, according to proponents at the meeting, signed a petition circulated last weekend supporting open streets for skateboarding.
The council is expected to pass the skateboard street ban ordinance at its April 5 meeting with laws going into effect 30 days later followed by a six-month review. First warnings will be issued with fines increasing from $25 to $50 to $100 for each additional offense.
The council considered but then eliminated a $30 skateboarding permit fee and replaced it with a request to parents that underage children, who are also required to wear a helmet, carry identification.
Arguments against the street bans ranged from freedom of expression, increased confidence, eco-friendly transportation, release of pent-up energy and eradicating boredom as well as drug use in teenagers. “I do not want to close this town down one more time,” commented councilman Kelly Boyd, who said the city started restricting surfing spots when he surfed as a young boy. “Then we went to Frisbees and then we went to smash-balls and then we went to dogs. It’s just one thing after another. This is Laguna; we shouldn’t be taking rights away.”
All sides agreed on one thing, that cars need to slow down in town. “Let’s get rid of all the cars,” remarked councilwoman Jane Egly to an outburst of audience support. Egly is also a member of the city’s Complete Streets Task Force, which purports sharing the road with mobile and pedestrian uses. “This is test time to see how it works for the people in cars and the people on skateboards and anybody walking,” she added.
Mark Golter, native Lagunan, champion skateboarder and father of a young skater, said the sport curbed his troublemaking tendencies. “It’s a feeling we call stoked,” he said. “It’s a feeling that cannot be explained but when you get on a skateboard and go for a ride, you can leave a lot of your troubles behind.”
Skateboarders, wearing t-shirts saying “Support Freedom – Skateboarding is not a crime,” opened their case Tuesday night by showing two videos. The first was a Nike ad spoofing the idea of criminalizing skateboarding by showing runners as outcasts with the tagline, “What if we treated all athletes (‘Runners aren’t criminals’ voiceover], the way we treat skateboarders?” The second video showed back-to-back world skateboarding champion Kevin Reimer demonstrating slide-stop techniques.
“I’m amazed to hear that downhill skateboarding is being referred to as speedboarding here in Laguna Beach,” said Reimer 22, from Vancouver, Canada. “To me, the sport I practice should be more accurately termed as slow-boarding. I do not get a rush from going more than 20 miles an hour.” Reimer said he won his championships by demonstrating control and safety rather than speed and unnecessary risks.
Proponents of the street bans, however, say asphalt and backsides don’t mix. “Mixing a great sport with traffic is a bad idea,” said Jim Hall, who lives in Bluebird Canyon. “The facts say that if you do that, people die. It’s improbable but it happens.” Hall pointed out that athletes at all levels make mistakes. “There isn’t a skateboarder who hasn’t fallen unintentionally. I don’t want to have to hit a kid on the street.”
Mayor Toni Iseman voiced a similar concern by comparing different surface impacts. “If you fall down when you’re skiing, you land in snow,” she said. “If you fall down when you’re surfing, you land in water. If you fall down while you’re skateboarding, not only are you landing on concrete but there are cars right there.”
But some say the physical risks are secondary to the psychological effects of restricting a free-spirited activity. “Every time I skateboard since this whole debate has arose,” said Nicki Hunt, 15, “I kind of find myself feeling like a criminal. When I see a police car, I stop skating on my skateboard and start walking, almost like I stole something or I had drugs. I shouldn’t have to feel like a criminal every time I skateboard. If I was on a bicycle, I don’t think I’d feel that way. I really don’t think banning skateboarding is a rational solution.”