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Skate Park Backers Focus on Aliso

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A crowd of mainly skateboarding supporters reacts in  2011 when the city banned some streets to skateboarding.  Photo by Ted Reckas.

A crowd of mainly skateboarding supporters reacts in 2011 when the city banned some streets to skateboarding. Photo by Ted Reckas.

Aliso Beach Park is the best location in Laguna Beach to consider for a skateboard park, according to a report from the city’s recreation committee.

Plans for a skate park were resurrected when recreation committee members were directed by the City Council to focus on a site to explore. Council member Steve Dicterow said building a skateboard park is a top priority for the city.

Developing a local skate park has been bantered about town for years, with various locations suggested and rejected. Aliso Beach Park, across Coast Highway from Aliso Beach in South Laguna, is the best site for a potential skate park for several reasons, recreation subcommittee members say, and, admittedly, a few hurdles, too.

If kids don’t have enough to do, they’ll leave town, says one recreation committee member. “There’s just not enough things here to keep them here and to keep them happy,” said Allen Doby, who also served on the skate park subcommittee. Other subcommittee members were Michele Hall and James Howard.

Doby, retired executive director of Santa Ana’s Recreation and Community Services Agency, now lives at the top of Nyes Place, a street banned for skateboarding due to its steep grade. “We get skateboarders coming down the street at 35-40 miles an hour,” said Doby, despite the ban. “That’s dangerous.” Doby also worked in the recreation departments for Los Angeles county and Compton. A designated skate park would be safer than hill-bombing, he said.

Several steep streets running through the hilly neighborhoods of Laguna Beach were

A local skateboarder  practicing in a driveway.

A local skateboarder practicing in a driveway.

banned in 2011 to skateboarders, who could be cited for ignoring the rules. Safety helmets for 18 and under were required. The rules resulted from a public outcry over skateboarding, a sport as iconic to southern California as surfing. Ban proponents said skateboarders were a car collision waiting to happen and opponents decried criminalizing the sport.

Aliso Park suits a skateboarding center because of existing restrooms, parking and bus and trolley service, according to the subcommittee’s report. Noise impact, a crucial factor for surrounding neighbors, would be buffered by Coast Highway, committee members said. “Everybody wants a skate park, but no one wants it in their neighborhood,” said committee member Hall, who organized a town hall meeting in March to discuss a skate park.

Two obvious obstacles are that the land is owned by the County of Orange and is also under the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission, said Ben Siegel, the city’s community services director. Siegel said his staff is just starting to look into possible constraints, requirements and permits.

“It would need a coastal development permit from the city’s planning commission,” said Seigel. The permit would be appealable for review by the California Coastal Commission, he said, which has jurisdiction over activities along the coastline and three miles out to sea. The process could be long and arduous, he said.

The park’s proximity to Aliso Creek might also create certain stipulations to satisfy the California Environment Quality Act, he said, which requires state and local agencies to identify the environmental impacts of development.

“If it’s determined to be feasible, we’ll reach out to the county,” Siegel said, to see if there’s interest in working with the city. A lagoon there is also being studied for a state-designated bird sanctuary as the result of a $300,000 grant to the Laguna Ocean Foundation from the California Coastal Conservancy.

Skateboarders on Glenneyre at Bluebird Canyon. Photo by Ted Reckas.

Skateboarders on Glenneyre at Bluebird Canyon. Photo by Ted Reckas.

The county has yet to hear about any plan for a skate park, said Bill Reiter, OC Parks division manager. “Either they’d have to take over the ownership of the property or the (skate) park would be ours to operate,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to be willing to build a park for us.”

Reiter, who’s been with the parks department for 17 years, said he’s never encountered a similar proposal, which would require approval by the county Board of Supervisors. He said it’s too early to know what tradeoff the county might propose.

Skateboard Mom, a moniker for lifelong skateboarder, children’s book author and resident Barbara Odanaka, said a site with an ocean breeze would be ideal. Odanaka, 52, said she travels out of town to skate.

“Some of the most popular skate parks in California are right near the beach; Venice, of course, and Santa Barbara has one right on the beach and Santa Cruz has one very close,” she said. “People need to look with new eyes at what a boon this could be for our city. I’m one of thousands of older skaters who make summer road trips going to different skate parks.”

Other sites under consideration were somewhere in Laguna Canyon, the village entrance at Broadway Street and Forest Avenue and Lang Park in South Laguna, committee members said.

“In my professional opinion,” said Doby, “the entrance is not the place for a skate park. The way it’s laid out now, it’s always busy.”

Even though the village entrance is within walking, biking and skateboarding distance for neighborhoods surrounding downtown, council members probably wouldn’t want a skateboard park there because it would be unsightly, said Hall.

Hall, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council in November and campaigned for a skate park, is helping establish a nonprofit organization for local youth activities and to help defray the costs of building the skate park, she said. Organizers have already met with skate park designers, she added.

“I think part of the issue is that people see skaters as being less desirable,” Hall said. “A skate park is a park and we’re going to build something beautiful. There’s no perfect site and this one definitely has its hurdles that we have to get through, but it doesn’t mean it’s not doable.”

Correction:The article, “Skate Park Backers Focus on Aliso,” in May 1 edition, incorrectly reported that an Aliso Creek lagoon is being studied for a bird sanctuary. The study is for an estuary.

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