Street patrols keep an eye on skateboarders

Driving along Cliff Drive on a recent Monday, Laguna Beach civilian officer Alfred Casas spotted a 19-year-old holding a skateboard.

Casas, 6-foot-4 and burly, calmly approached the man and respectfully asked if he knew about a city ordinance that requires skateboarders, regardless of age, to wear helmets.

"I wasn't riding the board, so I didn't think I needed a helmet," said the skater, who identified himself only as John.

Casas, who retired from the Fullerton Police Department in 2010 after 36 years in law enforcement, accepted the explanation before going into the ordinance's specifics. Casas then handed the teen a copy of the law and headed back to his car.

"People are shocked that [Laguna Beach] requires helmets on adults," says Casas, who patrols city streets twice a week. "Most juveniles are aware of the rules. Kids get the word out."

Of 213 skateboard-related violations issue by police from 2010 through March 14, more than half, 129, were given to boarders ages 13 to 19, police data shows.

Even though statistics show that the majority of skateboarders receiving tickets are teenagers, Casas sees more adults violating the city's helmet law; about two-thirds of them say they use skateboards to get to work.

The City Council recently adjusted the helmet law, enacting the latest addition to city skateboard regulations. The requirement to wear a helmet, whether adult or child, was part of the original skateboard ordinance passed in 2011. But now an officer can confiscate the board for a specific period of time if the owner is caught not wearing a helmet.

"We don't want to make the day miserable for someone," Casas said, "and we're not using [skateboarding fines] as a revenue generator. We're concerned for the safety of citizens and visitors."

The base fine for a first violation, regardless of the type of offense — skateboarding down banned streets, not wearing a helmet or boarding on prohibited public areas like some sidewalks or stair rails — is $25. The cost rises to $50 for a second violation and $100 for third and subsequent violations. Additional fines are possible if a person contests a violation in court but loses the appeal.

Streets where skateboarding is prohibited include Temple Hills, Skyline and Crestview drives. The ban includes certain sidewalks as well.

Casas said he sees a lot of skateboarders failing to stop at stop signs. And then there are the skateboarders who are occupied with another task while they are on their boards.

"We've seen a kid with video equipment filming the other person," Casas said.

Two years after Laguna Beach enacted its first skateboard ordinance — a ban on bombing down several streets — officers find that the citations they write most are for skateboarders not wearing a helmet.

Enforcement is difficult, Casas says.

"By the time we are dispatched, they are long gone," he said.

Ninety-seven people were cited for not wearing helmets from March 7, 2010, through March 6 of this year, according to statistics provided by Jim Beres, the police department's civilian supervisor.

The second most-common violation was skateboarding on prohibited sidewalks, with police doling out 28 citations.

South Coast Highway had the highest concentration with 21 citations handed out along the street. Forest Avenue ranked second with 16, while Glenneyre Street and Ocean Avenue had 10 each.

The City Council passed its skateboard ordinance in 2011 and amended it last year to include confiscating skateboards of violators who are caught not wearing a helmet. Also, Skyline Drive was added as a banned street.

Police have confiscated six skateboards since the council approved the helmet amendment in November, Beres said.

The department keeps skateboards for one week for a first violation and 30 days for each subsequent violation.

Neighboring Newport Beach also bans skateboarding on certain city streets.

Twenty to 25 streets in Newport have skateboard restrictions, said Tony Brine, that city's traffic engineer.

Streets are banned because they either have a grade of 6% or more or are in areas with a large number of pedestrians, Brine added.

Costa Mesa, which has a skate park, does not ban skateboarding on any street, police Lt. Mark Manley said.

"[Skateboarders] still have to obey the [city's] vehicle code," he said, "and the skate park has certain regulations."

In Laguna Beach, the much-debated ordinance has garnered strong feelings, with some calling the ban on certain streets a "deprivation of civil liberties," according to a 2011 Coastline Pilot story.

"There was so much talk of this issue" before it became law in 2011, said Laguna Beach police Capt. Jason Kravetz.

Kravetz said once the City Council prohibited certain streets, skateboarders moved to other legal areas.

"Since then we still get calls, but not near the volume as around the time the ordinance was enacted," Kravetz said.

Mayor Kelly Boyd echoed that statement, stating that calls about skateboard complaints have dramatically decreased since the ordinance was enacted.

"I have not heard any complaints for six months," said Boyd, who along with Councilman Steve Dicterow is spearheading a subcommittee looking at locations for a skate park.

"Kids are still skating, but overall I think the ordinance is working," Boyd said.

Residents often see skateboarders zooming down streets, but many understand the role skateboarding plays in the city's culture.

"They are always wearing helmets, and so far the kids have not been nasty," said Kelli Humphrey, who has lived on Skyline since 2008.

She said parents still drop off their children toward the top of Skyline, and the kids ride down the hill.

Humphrey grew up skateboarding in a rural area.

"I broke my nose twice," she said. "I hope they don't hurt themselves. I'm concerned they might run into a driver and then sue the driver."

Police assigned officers to watch for skateboarders on certain streets after the city enacted the ordinance in 2011, Beres said. Dedicated volunteer civilian beach patrol officers also kept an eye on the streets. But Beres said the department stopped the practice.

"To put someone out there to [enforce skateboarding only] is not something you can keep up forever," Beres said. "We're a small department. We don't have the staff to assign one [task]."

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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