Council compromises on skateboard ban

Laguna Beach will curb skateboarding, but not outlaw it.

The City Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to an ordinance that limits speed and allows city officials to ban skateboarding on certain streets in the name of safety, despite public testimony that often equated the ban with the deprivation of civil liberties.

The ordinance requires a second reading before it becomes law in Laguna, considered by many to be the cradle of skateboarding and a haven for downhill speedboarders.

"I have skated thousands of hills, and in those thousands are every hill in Laguna Beach, but there is only one I deem truly dangerous — Alta Vista," said Kevin Reimer, a two-time downhill skateboard world champion.

Alta Vista Way is one of 20 on which the council considered a ban on skateboarding and roller skating.

Mayor Toni Iseman would have added more. Councilwoman Verna Rollinger would have preferred none.

The council settled on eight.

"I don't want to close this town down," Councilman Kelly Boyd said. "This is Laguna. We shouldn't be taking away rights."

Most of the ordinance was recommended by the city's Parking Traffic and Circulation Committee, which did not include banning any streets, and was accepted with some reservation by skateboarding adherents.

The ban would take effect 30 days from an approval date. In the meantime, city staff will investigate off-street locations for speedboarding, as Boyd suggested.

Reimer, 22, came from Canada, where he lives and owns a business, to support skateboarders and their parents who opposed bans. He was one of 47 speakers opposed to the ban at the standing room-only, almost three-hour hearing

"We understand that safety is a big concern for the council here tonight, and we appreciate that," opponent Peter French said. "On the subject of safety, Ben Franklin said, 'Any society that attempts to sacrifice its sacred liberty for a small amount of safety winds up with neither and loses both.'

"We believe that this is exactly what is being considered in this ordinance: the exchange of liberty for safety."

Seventeen speakers favored the ban.

"Freedom is precious to all of us," Julie Brinkman said. "But with freedom comes responsibility. Laws come into being because people exercise freedom at the expense of others."

Iseman said that tales of near-misses — and the trauma it caused — predominated in the e-mails and telephone calls she received related to skateboarding.

"The council has to consider this," Manfred Wolff said.

Opponents also included about a dozen Thurston Middle School students whom Jennifer Gibbs provided with comments from petitions circulated last week.

Speaking for himself, Connor Brashier, 13, said, "Let's ban ridiculous laws."

Many of the younger residents in attendance expressed concern that skateboarding was going to be criminalized.

"I don't know where the idea came from that we want to ban skateboarding," Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson said. "We just want to ban it on the most dangerous streets."

Part of the confusion might have risen from using the terms skateboarding and speedboarding interchangeably by some, while others differentiate between hopping curbs and bombing Laguna's challenging hillside streets.

Reimer

supported the Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee's recommendations, which did not include street bans but did call for a review of the impact of ordinance in six months.

He told Boyd that he normally keeps his speed to 20 mph, occasionally bumping it up to 30 mph.

Based on Reimer's comments about speed, the council approved a 25 mph limit in the draft ordinance.

"People could solve these problems if they would slow down while driving and turn off their cell phones and stop texting," Boyd said.

For a complete reading of the ordinance as approved Tuesday, visit http://www.lagunabeachcity.net.

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