The Future Of SP Skateboarding

Congratulations to the San Pedro Skate Association for its role in creating the very first skate park in our community a decade ago. The Channel Street Skatepark has become a treasured asset for skateboarders in San Pedro, and is used by hundreds of skaters every week.

California is the birthplace of skateboarding. The sport began to receive worldwide attention in the late 1970s, when a group of skateboarders from Venice, known as the Z-Boys, began using empty swimming pools to practice new tricks and hold competitions. The pools – many emptied due to a severe drought – were almost always on private property, and the skateboarders usually did not have the permission of the property owner to use them. Skateboarders also used other existing infrastructure – plazas, planters, stairs, ramps and railings, on both private and public property.

In a city severely lacking adequate park and recreation space, it’s not surprising that youth began to look at the endless miles of concrete and urban sprawl as their own private playground.

The lack of dedicated facilities for this quickly growing sport led to an often-contentious relationship between property owners, police and skateboarders, contributing to the sport’s reputation as an underground counter-culture activity.

However, as skateboarding grew in popularity and became more mainstream, policy makers and elected officials began to recognize the need for dedicated skateparks, to allow skateboarders a controlled environment to engage in the sport, without trespassing on private property. This also allowed for the implementation of rules to reduce the risks involved in the sport, such as requiring the use of helmets and protective pads as a condition for using the parks.

Next summer, we will be opening a brand new skate park at Peck Park in San Pedro, and my office is working on building a new skate park in Watts. Today, skateboarding is unquestionably a mainstream, legitimate sport and, as a former Senior Lead Officer at LAPD, I would much rather kids be honing their skills at the skate park, as opposed to vandalizing property with graffiti, breaking into cars or experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

Skateparks facilitate the art of maneuvering a board in one fashion, but as many of us are aware, some skaters use their boards in other fashions – including riding them down steep and hilly streets; a newer specialty of the sport, known as downhill skating, or “bombing.”

While I respect the fact that being able to maneuver a skateboard at speeds in excess of 40-mph, takes lots of skill, talent and guts, running red lights, stop signs and mixing it all with moving vehicles is a recipe for disaster.

This is why I have been so vocal about putting an end to it.

My actions enacting an ordinance banning reckless skateboard bombing does not mean that I do not recognize the fact that many of our young skaters have a need and desire to participate in this sport, which is growing in popularity. In fact, there is a worldwide sanctioning body – the International Gravity Sports Association – that has established rules and guidelines, and arranges competitions all around the world.

As your elected representative in the City of Los Angeles, I constantly strive to represent everyone in our district and everyone in our community. Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to give back to the young boys and girls who feel I have taken something away from them, and there is no way I can pass it up.

A group who wishes to hold a downhill skateboarding competition in San Pedro this spring has approached my office, and I am proud to support their efforts. The event would close Gaffey St. from the lookout point down to Paseo Del Mar, creating a temporary closed-course for all skaters to enjoy, while providing safety and emergency resources to create the safest and most fun environment.

I understand that there will be a few members of the community who will argue that sanctioning this event sends mixed messages. However, I have consistently stated that I am not against skateboarding, I am against reckless skateboarding.

By providing downhill skateboarders a closed course, where they will not be sharing the road with automobile traffic, requiring liability waivers, and implementing safety precautions like requiring protective gear, lining the street with hay bales, and having first aid standing by on-site, we hope to reduce most of the potential risks.

I don’t believe holding this special event encourages reckless skateboarding any more than the Long Beach Grand Prix encourages reckless driving. In fact, it provides a unique opportunity to reach out to young skateboarders, and educate them on the new ordinance, as well as the importance of wearing helmets and protective gear.

Creating smart public policy is often about striking an appropriate balance between two important, but contradicting positions. In this case, it’s about finding the balance between ensuring public safety and protecting personal liberty. I believe my skateboarding safety ordinance did that by requiring that skateboarders obey the same rules of the road as motorists and bicyclists follow, without banning them on public streets altogether, as many had advocated for. Similarly, I believe this downhill skateboarding event strikes that same balance.

As a parent, I understand the desire to protect kids from any activity that could bring them bodily harm. But, we have to recognize that we can never make this world as safe for them as we would like, and that government can never replace the role of parents, nor should it attempt to. The best we can do is to reduce and minimize risk, and hope that by providing necessary education and safer alternatives, kids will make smarter decisions on their own.