Skateboarding proponents dominate hearing

Skateboarders and supporters of limits on the activity gave the Parking Traffic and Circulation Committee an earful last week, but neither side will know how well they pitched their cases for at least eight weeks.

Testimony presented by speakers, who ranged in age from pre-teen to an octogenarian, at the July 22 meeting will be considered by a PTC subcommittee, which is scheduled to make recommendations at the Sept. 22 full committee hearing on what, if any, restrictions should be placed on trick skateboarding or its off-shoot, downhill speed boarding.

The committee has been tasked to assess issues of safety, tradition, love of the sport and what some have termed unruly behavior.

"This sport is an inextricable part of our town's culture," said Genny Davis, 20, a Laguna Beach High School graduate and one of the 35 speakers at the hearing. "Laguna's residents love to skate. High school students who cannot drive or afford expensive activities use it as a free, healthy form of exercise, entertainment and transportation."

Davis said rude behavior is not exclusive to skateboarders and should not be used to characterize an entire group of people.

However, Margaret Butts, a senior citizen, said skateboarders harass the elderly and dog walkers.

"They are a menace to society," she said.

John Bernstein said he is more concerned about safety than manners.

"When something is dangerous in Laguna, we regulate it," Bernstein said. "Surfing is only allowed on five of Laguna's beaches. Skateboarding is banned on 10 of Laguna's streets."

Dr. John Brusky said statistics show there are five skateboard-related deaths a year, compared with 500 bicycle-related deaths and 30,000 vehicle-related deaths.

"Children are in more danger driving than skateboarding," he said.

A proposal by Bernstein, backed up by a petition, to limit skateboarding to 10 miles per hour and on hills with less than a 3% grade, triggered the formation of the PTC subcommittee on skateboarding.

"We are not looking to ban skateboarding," Bernstein said. "It's 'speed-boarding' we are trying to stop."

Speed boarders have been estimated, if not clocked, going down Laguna's hills at more than 50 mph, maybe as fast as 60 mph.

Keith "Kito" Peery said he has no objection to skateboard regulations, but favors ones that are enforceable and that he said have proven effective.

"I hope that the city can resolve this in the same manner as Portland (Ore.), so that I and all the others in this room will not be criminalized for participating in a sport, recreational activity and means of transportation that we all love and grew up doing here in Laguna," Peery wrote in an e-mail to the committee.

Skateboarders in Portland have the same rights and duties as bicyclists, Peery said.

Thurston Middle School student Makenna Zur Schmeide said laws can be enforced and parents could be supervisors.

"Kids could be teachers for kids like us, who want to do something more than sit on a couch," said Chance Gault, 12.

At the other end of the age spectrum at the meeting, longtime skateboard supporter Bruce Hopping, 88, told the committee that signatures opposing the proposed limitations are being collected.

"Skateboarding is a way of life here in town, kids skate to the beach, skate to eat, skate to check the waves, skate to a friend's house and use this fun recreational activity as a mode of transportation," Peery wrote. "Taking, this recreational activity away would be a disgrace to the surf and skate culture that was established in this town long before many of the residents that are here now claiming to be local because they have lived here for 10-15 years."

Barb Odanaka, 47, told the committee that she doesn't want to see Laguna treat skateboarding like Newport Beach, which limits the sport to hills with a 6% or less grade, or Poway, which she said requires skateboarders to be fingerprinted and photographed before entering the city's skate park.

The latter is academic. Laguna has no skateboard park, in spite of efforts by residents and a YMCA offer to build and maintain a park if the land could be found.

"Things get done in Laguna, if we make up our minds this is something we want to do," former Mayor Wayne Peterson said. "We need some place where kids can skateboard if we don't want them on the streets."

An estimated 160 to 170 people attended the meeting, which was dominated by pro-skateboarding speakers and audience. More meetings will be held, with times, dates and location to be posted on www.lagunabeachcity.net. Meeting minutes also will be posted.

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