Park safety talk stirs up hornets nest

Characterizing it as Costa Mesa's "most hazardous public park," the chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission on Thursday called on the city to enforce rules requiring that skateboarders wear safety gear at Volcom Skate Park.

Byron de Arakal said he wanted to make the facility safer for all users and suggested that the city should do more than post signage about wearing safety gear.

It's a minimum requirement, he said at the commission meeting Thursday, that "isn't good enough in my book."

"I don't want to be sitting on this parks commission when that one helmetless kid takes a dive and suffers some traumatic head injury or worse," he said, reading from one-page statement.

Volcom Skate Park, 900 Arlington Drive, opened in June 2005. It is free for use by skateboarders and in-line skaters. Helmets, knee pads and elbow pads are required; BMX bikes and scooters are prohibited.

De Arakal said park rangers and Costa Mesa police have been in confrontations with park users while trying to enforce the safety rules.

The commission was scheduled Thursday to consider changing the park's operating hours during the school year and summer. Doing so might address some of the safety concerns and keep the site in accordance with other Orange County skate parks, according to the commission's report.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, a member of the audience urged that the panel not change the hours at the busy facility.

As of Oct. 18, when the parks agenda was first made public, Volcom Skate Park was up for discussion. It was removed from the agenda the next day by city staff, a displeased de Arakal told the Daily Pilot on Friday.

As is standard practice, the city posted signage about the meeting at the park, in the surrounding Mesa del Mar neighborhood and at local skate shops. Mesa del Mar's homeowners association was also contacted, as was Volcom.

De Arakal called pulling the item from the agenda a "dustup" created by a few individuals.

"I had to decide whether I wanted to get in a playground fight with a few people or take a step back, let things cool off, circle back and take a more concerted effort at coming up with a comprehensive solution," he said.

Katrina Foley, president and founder of the National Scholastic Skateboarding League, said there are known problems at the skate park — namely out-of-town "rogue young adults" — but expressed frustration with the process by which the change in hours was proposed.

"We weren't given an opportunity to meet with staff and come up with solutions," she said. "Changing the schedule only limits the youth of the most well-used park in our city, and it doesn't address the problem."

Foley, a Newport-Mesa Unified School District board member, said the skate park issues should have been forwarded to the city's Youth Sports Council, a process followed by Pop Warner football and soccer.

"We should receive the same courtesy," she said.

De Arakal said he hopes to see the matter come before the commission as soon as January.

"It'll be a debate," he said. "And there's nothing wrong with that."

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