Commentary: If you want to skate at Volcom, wear your gear

Last summer at a Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission meeting, Lt. Mark Manley of the Costa Mesa Police Department painted a compelling picture of the culture that has infiltrated the Volcom Skate Park.

Underpinning that culture — often tagged as "skate free or die" — is an open defiance of state law and Costa Mesa's own municipal code, which requires the wearing of a helmet, elbow pads and knee pads when skating at a public skate park (in this instance, Volcom).

Of particular note was his account of a handful of physical confrontations with skaters — all from outside Costa Mesa — who became belligerent when contacted by park rangers and officers because they weren't wearing safety equipment required by law. In each instance, arrests were made.

Over the course of the summer, I met with members of our staff, Manley and the dedicated park rangers under his command to begin formulating a strategy to better enforce our skate park law.

One of those options — which I had hoped to discuss with the public and my fellow commissioners at Thursday's Parks and Recreation Commission meeting — is to shorten Volcom Skate Park's hours from a 12-hour day to an eight-hour day.

I understand that this solution, by itself, won't completely solve the problem. What it would do is reduce by four hours the opportunity for skaters to use our city facility, sans safety gear, in open defiance of our municipal code. Equally important, it would reduce by four hours the risk our park rangers and police officers encounter when attempting to cite defiant skaters.

Unfortunately, consideration of this option was pulled from the commission meeting agenda at the request of a single resident.

There is a mentality in some quarters that believes that because the city is technically in compliance with state law governing skate parks operated by public entities, we should do nothing to fix the problem. We should let it go.

Frankly, I find this thinking dumbfounding. In my opinion Volcom Skate Park is the most hazardous public park facility in the city. I witness young children to grown adults — often by the dozens at one time — flying around a confined space that's nothing more than concrete and metal with edges and drops. And yet we're satisfied that by the word of our municipal code we're legally "covered."

That's not good enough in my book. I don't want to be a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission when that one, helmetless kid takes a dive and suffers some traumatic head injury or worse.

It is, in my opinion, irresponsible for Costa Mesa to operate Volcom Skate Park without requiring — not just by the word of law but by the deed of enforcement — the use of safety gear by all who skate there. For me, it has nothing to do with "risk management" or "technical compliance with the law" and everything to do with common sense and helping our residents stay safe when using a city facility.

So, I again pledge to our park rangers, police officers and the community that we will — in consultation with staff, the police department and the community — develop and implement a comprehensive solution to make Volcom Skate Park a safe place for all who wish to enjoy it, and for our park rangers and police officers who are sworn to uphold the laws of this city.

Whatever that solution is its basic message must be this: If you want to skate at Volcom, wear your gear.

BYRON DE ARAKAL is chairman of the Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commission and a 20-year resident of Costa Mesa.

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