On the streets of this beach community, from Dana Point Harbor to La Plaza Park, the word is out.
A new law banning skateboarding from some of the most popular spots is looming. Among the sport’s young aficionados, the news could not be worse.
“Everyone knows about it, but nobody likes it,” said Shaun Vanderheiden, 11.
But local business people, particularly in the shopping centers and parks where the skateboarders congregate, say the law is the only way to control them.
“This has been an ongoing problem for us, the No. 1 thing on the agenda at every one of our merchants’ meetings” said Gary Liss, manager of Longs Drugs in the Ocean Ranch Village. “Kids on skateboards use our parking lot, the back of our center, anywhere. They’ll skate up the sides of the buildings and over the curbs.”
Representatives of the Ocean Ranch Village, a 1-year-old center at the city’s northern border, were the ones who finally lobbied the council to enact a skateboarding law. The center’s large parking lot lures skateboarders, roller-skaters and “roller-bladers,” who ride a skate with wheels aligned on a single blade.
“I sympathize with the kids, they need a place to play,” said Catherine Loessin of Shea Business Properties, the manager of Ocean Ranch Center. “But, after all, this is a shopping center first. We have struggled to try to keep it under control, but it’s dangerous.”
Susan Finn, owner of The Country Fox, a gift store in the Dana Point Harbor shopping area, says it is the harassment of her customers that has led to several run-ins with skateboarders.
“It’s very dangerous,” Finn said. “I have people walking out of my store get nearly run over by the kids. Then they’ll ride up and down the back of one of my walls and things will fall off the racks. I just think they should go to more appropriate places to play.”
Dana Point’s proposed ordinance is aimed at doing just that, prohibiting skateboarding and roller-skating in the commercial complexes and public parks, where tenants or customers have complained. Under the proposed law, merchants in a shopping center would decide whether to ask the city for a ban there.
The City Council this week unanimously approved the ordinance at a first reading, meaning it will return for more discussion before becoming law.
“This is an enabling ordinance, meaning it can be used as a tool to correct a situation that is perceived as a safety problem,” said Councilwoman Eileen Krause. “If business owners believe they have a problem, now they have a mechanism to come to the council and do something about it. It will be a case-by-case thing, in which the city will respond to a particular complaint.”
As written, the ordinance would carry a $25 fine for the first offense, and $50 for a second offense.
The citations and fines, say the business owners, will help enforce their efforts to keep the skateboarders from coming right back after being shooed away.
“This would put some teeth into the rules,” said Liss of Longs Drugs.
Dana Point is not alone in this. At least 13 county cities already have enacted ordinances prohibiting skateboarding and roller-skating on sidewalks, streets and sometimes in city parks.
In Huntington Beach, skateboarding is nearly as popular as surfing, and some police officials regard it as a major nuisance.
“We have thousands of skateboarders here, and they can cause lots of problems,” said Sgt. T. Swan of the Huntington Beach Police Department. “They’re into jumping and all kinds of tricky stuff and they wind up breaking windows, damaging cars and causing thousands of dollars in damage.”
Swan said skateboarders are banned from city streets, sidewalks and parking areas “where their use creates a hazard to pedestrians.” But if they stay on the sidewalk or the street and “are not bothering anybody, they’re not cited,” Swan said.
“We don’t really have the time to try to control them,” he said. “You’d be dealing with 10,000 problems if you did.”
In Dana Point, perhaps the most popular site for skateboarders is La Plaza Park, where they use the small outside amphitheater to launch themselves into the air for jumps and spins.
“I think if you ban skateboarding, you’d just have more crime and drugs,” Vanderheiden said. “Kids would have nothing else to do.”
His pal Justin Miller, 13, agreed. Besides, he said, “kids will skate where they want anyway.”
“Skateboarding is an art,” said Miller, a sixth-grader at Richard Henry Dana Elementary School. “It’s expressing yourself, and while you’re skating, it takes all your troubles away.”