Curves thrown at speedboarding

Speedboarders may be banned by a future ordinance from some of Laguna's steepest streets, but their sport did not hit a dead end Tuesday.

The City Council voted for skateboarding regulations and to ban skateboarding on portions of Summit and Bluebird Canyon drives, and Alta Vista Boulevard.

The council also approved Councilman Kelly Boyd's offer to head a committee to consider whether, when, on what streets — including the three banned — and under what conditions speedboarding should be allowed, rather than the more restrictive ban proposed by a group of residents.

"Nothing is going to stop these kids. We need a conclusion so both sides can get what they want," said Arthur Wexell, who has grown up speedboarding.

Boyd said he will put together a discussion group that includes professional speedboarder Mark Goulter and Oak Street skateboarding guru Chad Gibbs, as well as two Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee members and two speedboarding opponents.

"We will to try to hammer out some of this stuff and come back to the council with a recommendation," Boyd said, adding that a leader of the opponents' group, Alan Bernstein, has agreed to join the group.

Mayor Toni Iseman called it combat duty, in recognition of the entrenched positions taken by supporters and opponents.

"Our job is public safety first and everything else comes in second," Iseman said.

Sixty-five speakers aired their views during the nearly three-hour hearing. Thirty-eight speakers opposed any ban, although many supported regulations and fines for violators of existing helmet and other laws.

Citing numerous accidents, members of Speedboarders Neighborhood Action Group are the drivers of the proposed ban on downhill speedskating. They claim that speedboarders often have no control over their direction and cannot, or do not, stop at intersections — the cause of near misses, if not reported accidents.

The group wants the sport outlawed on 10 city streets, including Third Street, Park and Balboa avenues, Rancho Laguna Road and Bluebird Canyon, Summit and Skyline drives.

Skateboarders reposted that they are skilled athletes and pose no danger to themselves or others.

"If we are skating on Park Avenue, we know what we are doing," boarder Kody Noble said.

"You are looking down on a sport because of a few bad apples," boarder Noah Hunt said. "How can you ban skateboarding without banning bicycles?"

He said 40,000 Americans die in automobile accidents and 1,300 die in cycling accidents every year, compared with 42 skateboarders.

"We ride safely," Hunt said. "We don't want to die."

Opponents also cited bad manners and reckless disregard for property and the safety of others.

Laguna Beach native Peter J. French

introduced the idea of a speedboarding competition on Park Avenue with a prize of $5,000 to the winner.

Bernstein opined a competition would bring the wrong kind of tourist to Laguna.

"If you encourage the bottom part of the tourist market, you lose the top end, with the top end refraining from coming into downtown Laguna Beach," Bernstein said. "This is the income generated by tourists who go to the Montage and Pelican Hill."

A city-sponsored competition exacerbated liability concerns, a major issue for many of the ban supporters.

"If you are going to compromise public safety by having skateboarders using our public streets, when you should have the parents of minor skateboarders and adult skateboarders sign a waiver that relieves the city, taxpayers and motorists from any liability, financial or otherwise," Mystic Hills resident Martha Lydick said.

Liability law in this area is murky, City Atty. Philip Kohn said.

Immunity for public agencies is part of state law. However, liability for skateboarding is limited to the confines of a skateboard park, which is covered in the state health and safety code. That deals with hazardous recreational activities and includes tree rope swinging, but not skateboarding on streets.

The omission of skateboarding was deliberate, Kohn said.

City streets, some of which were created when transportation was by horse and buggy, are not safe for fast-moving cars, let alone speedboarders not protected by metal as they zip down steep, winding streets, according to Iseman.

"We [council] got a lot of e-mail, which inevitably included, 'I almost killed a kid,'" Iseman said.

The audience listened in silence to a tearful Heather Mutz recounting a recent incident when she thought she had killed a child who had ended up under her car. The boy was all right, but pleaded with her not to call the police to report the accident, fearful of a negative reaction to speedboarding.

"What if I killed that boy and my kids were in the car and seen this?" Mutz said.

Diane Cannon followed with her grim experiences, which included an accident her son had when he was 15 and was in a coma for 15 days.

However, Wyatt Gibbs, 14, spoke against the ban on behalf of himself and his friends.

"We don't do drugs or drink," Gibbs said, "We are too busy skateboarding."

Tanner Flagstad, 13, said he and his friends ask neighbors if they have an issue with skateboarding.

"If they say yes, we respectfully leave the area," Flagstad said.

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