Coast Highway spot considered for skate park

The Laguna Beach Recreation Committee has in its sights a new spot for a skate park — Aliso Beach Park.

The committee discussed the option at its regular meeting Monday night at the Susi Q Senior Center.

Committee chairman Jim Howard said he drove around Laguna Beach eyeing potential sites for a skate park, an idea discussed for about 20 years, and came upon a plot across South Coast Highway from the county-owned beach and parking lot.

The street would block some of the skate park-generated noise, according to Howard.

"I like the site because it is a buffer," said Howard, who has lived in Laguna since 1967.

Councilman Steve Dicterow and Mayor Kelly Boyd formed a subcommittee to study sites for a potential skate park. Dicterow was not at Monday's meeting and committee members didn't want to move forward without the councilman's input.

But during a phone interview Tuesday, Dicterow said he was concerned about the Aliso Beach Park site when told of Monday's discussion.

"I don't want [the skate park] to be too public of a place, where people from outside Laguna would be using it," Dicterow said. "We need to look at every possible site and I want help from the Recreation Committee on this."

Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce board member Aaron Talarico supports a skate park but said at Monday's meeting that the committee should continue looking at other locations within the city.

"I think a skate park in a neighborhood would be a great thing, to be used by our kids from Laguna," said Talarico, who has one young daughter and another child on the way. "I prefer it to be in a neighborhood."

But Howard reminded the group of the May 9 meeting at Moulton Meadows Park, during which several residents of the Arch Beach Heights neighborhood voiced opposition to a skate park at that site, citing noise concerns and possible drug use by parkgoers.

Dicterow and Boyd pulled the Moulton Meadows site from any further consideration immediately following the May meeting.

"No matter where we put it, someone will be upset," Recreation Committee member Danielle Ward said. "It's going to be an issue no matter what."

The location across from Aliso Creek Park has a parking lot and large grass area big enough for a skate park of 9,000 to 12,000 square feet, Community Services Director Ben Siegel said Tuesday. He added that the proximity to Aliso Creek and could require extensive environmental analysis and input from regulatory agencies.

The site is in Orange County Supervisor Pat Bates's district, but city officials have not talked with Bates about a skate park there, Siegel said.

Siegel echoed Dicterow's concerns about a Coast Highway location potentially drawing out-of-towners and the difficulty of finding a location in Laguna that won't meet with disapproval from some homeowners.

"Anytime something is along Coast Highway, it's a more regional draw," Siegel said. "I don't know if you're going to find a site that is not close to residents. Noise travels up and those people might not be happy with noise. There needs to be an education effort."

Lack of available space for a park has been a recurring concern among some residents, but Talarico sees it differently.

"There's 23,000 acres of passive open space," Talarico said. "We need a quarter-acre for a skate park. If we can't find a quarter-acre for a skate park, that is outrageous."

Two other skate park ideas surfaced at the meeting.

Resident Bruce Hopping suggested a mobile skate park with portable ramps that could travel to different locations in the city, allowing skateboarders to compete against each other.

"The city has been hammering for many years for a skateboard park and the neighbors object to it," Hopping said.

The mobile park would be limited to Laguna Beach residents and free of charge, Hopping said.

"Who would make the ramps?" committee member Rebecca Meekma asked.

A skateboard manufacturer would design and build ramps, said Hopping, who suggested transferring funds earmarked for the project for a mobile park.

The city has $195,000 appropriated for a skate park, Siegel said.

A skate park of 9,000 to 12,000 square feet is estimated to cost $300,000 to $400,000, but that range is on the lower end, according to Siegel.

"If you factor in grading and topography changes, depending on the site, the price starts to increase," Siegel said.

Another possible location is a private paved lot off Canyon Acres Drive in Laguna Canyon, an idea raised at an earlier meeting, Meekma said.

"You could walk there from downtown, it's close to a residential area, and 44 weeks out of the year there would be parking on Laguna Canyon frontage road," Meekma said.

Building a skate park would send a message to the city's youth, Laguna resident Joe Mackey said at Monday's meeting.

"This is not just a skateboard park," Mackey said. "Just because the youth might not have a voice or a vote, we have to stand up for them, continue to get to know them and provide quality [parks] for them."

The Recreation Committee's next meeting is Sept. 9.

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