Skaters plan to protest city’s refusal to reopen Costa Mesa skate park
In recent months, a battle has been ramping up between Costa Mesa city officials — who’ve maintained the city’s beloved skate park must remain shuttered, even as other parks have reopened — and teens looking for a place to shred.
The 15,000-square-foot Volcom Skate Park near TeWinkle Park and the city-owned Bark Park, like many other public facilities, were closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But as Orange County restrictions began to ease in May and June, and recreational spaces in Costa Mesa began coming back online, no mention was made of returning the skate park to the city’s board-wielding denizens.
That’s a big problem for Johnny Schillereff, a lifelong skater who founded Element Skateboards and turned it into a global brand before retiring and moving to Costa Mesa with his family to live within riding distance of the skate park.
“Everything is open. Restaurants are open. Tennis, where balls exchange hands … a dog park, with animals people pet — everything but the skate park,” said Schillereff, 49. “Skateboarding is the one sport where the absolute last thing you want to do is come into contact with another human.”
The facility remains one of the few public amenities in Costa Mesa, along with park restrooms and playgrounds, prohibited from use. That hasn’t stopped those who view skateboarding as more of a lifestyle than a hobby from partaking in the sport.
City officials and skating enthusiasts acknowledge it’s not uncommon for kids — sometimes aided by their parents — to hop the fence and skateboard anyway. Prohibited use of the site is a regular occurrence.
And if the story were to stop there, the combination of kids’ dexterity and a municipal blind eye may have created an impasse both sides could live with.
But spurred on by a public duty to enforce coronavirus restrictions, city park employees and police officers are reportedly patrolling in and around TeWinkle Park, issuing stern warnings and lectures, sometimes even ticketing youth.
Schillereff’s wife, Kori, a self-described “skate mom,” says the enforcement behaviors she’s seen are akin to bullying.
“The cops are starting to come out. They’re berating our children and yelling obscenities at them,” she said. “The community of skaters is so undervalued and discriminated against, it’s hurtful.”
The Costa Mesa couple have shared their concerns on social media and spoken in public meetings, asking that the park be reopened.
Fight Club OC season ticket holders enjoyed a night of wrestling inside their cars in Costa Mesa. At this event, it was cool to wear masks, whether you were wrestling or watching.
But according to Mayor Katrina Foley, state guidelines pertaining to campgrounds and outdoor recreation are somewhat murky.
“Operators should monitor areas where people are likely to gather and ensure that physical distancing and other guidelines are followed. Post signs on physical distancing requirements and discourage groups from gathering in larger numbers than are currently recommended or allowed by the local county,” the rule reads.
In a Sept. 16 letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, Foley requested insight into the guidance, asking how cities might enforce its mandates and whether they’d be liable if those mandates were not adhered to.
“The guidance lacks clarity on what constitutes ‘discouraging’ groups from gathering, and specific capacity requirements similar to restaurants and cultural celebrations would be helpful,” she wrote.
Foley said she was a strong advocate for reopening the park.
“We’re being forced to enforce a rule that puts our resources at risk, that is treating kids who are just trying to recreate like criminals,” she said. “If you can golf or play tennis, you should be able to skateboard.”
Schillereff said he was skeptical of the mayor’s motives and sensed a political agenda at work. Skaters are making plans to mobilize. A peaceful “protest/skate sesh” is being planned for Oct. 4 at 1 p.m. at the skate park.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be pretty gnarly,” Schillereff said.
Cardine writes for Times Community News.
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