New Skateboard Park to be Considered for Golden Gate Park

By George McConnell

Skateboarding advocates scored a victory at City Hall in November when the SF Board of Supervisor's Neighborhood Services Committee recommended creating a new skateboard park. Testimony about why the park is needed and where its location should be lasted more than two hours.

Legislation to create the park was introduced by SF Supervisor Ross Mirkirimi.

"I've had a flood of well wishers; so many e-mails in support of this idea saying it's about time," Mirkirimi said.

But it may be awhile before the first "switch-stance heel-flip backside 50-50 grind" goes down in the new park. Exactly where and when it will come online is unknown. As of presstime, the legislation was scheduled to go before the full board for approval. Because the site is in Golden Gate Park, it requires a two-thirds vote for passage.

There are other hurdles to cross, however, even if it is approved.

In addition to an environmental review, there is the big issue of funding. Cost estimates from Denny Kerns, director of operations for the SF Recreation and Park Department, range from $500,000 to $1 million-plus.

"This a fairly large capital project," remarked SF Supervisor Carmen Chu.

The city's latest skate park, Potrero Del Sol, is now nearing completion. It cost $1.3 million, according to SF Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, chairman of the Neighborhood Services Committee. He said much of the cost was state-funded. Making the project a priority is a key issue.

McGoldrick said there are many competing projects in the pipeline, and the other committee members all voiced concerns about the skateboard park receiving unfair preferential treatment.

"We need to make sure we are not putting this in front of another project. I am concerned that we are doing this in the appropriate way," said SF Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier.

Mirkirimi introduced the legislation stating that skateboarding is now a mainstream activity, with an estimated 25,000-plus skateboarders recreating and transporting in the City each day. He noted that the city has spent years grappling with the issue of how to accommodate the skaters and reduce the damage caused by their skateboards.

"We have one skateboarding park, Crocker Amazon, which is located in District 11 and now Potrero Del Sol, between Districts 9 and 10. The rest of City is completely vacant of skateboard parks. Building more parks will help encourage this activity in regulated areas and help disperse use in unregulated areas," Mirkirimi said.

Skateboarding advocates agreed, testifying that there were few places left where it is legal to skate due to laws prohibiting skateboarding in so many areas.

"Sadly, skateboarding in everywhere but one or two places is illegal in the entire City. We are making criminals of these people. It has become very difficult to skate in San Francisco," stated Chris Duderstadt of the California Roller Sports Association.

Mirkirimi originally suggested the horseshoe pits in the northeastern sector of Golden Gate Park as a good spot for skateboarding because it is underutilized. Although some skateboard advocates liked the area, Kerns thought it was inappropriate because it was too remote and too small.

As well, Greg Gaar, a member of Nature in the City, testified that the surrounding hillsides were unstable.

The second site choice, a section of Waller Street between Stanyan Street and Kezar Drive near the Haight Ashbury, has been closed to traffic for years. This option was given as the preferred one by the committee after getting a thumbs up recommendation from Kerns. He noted its large size, nearly 25,000 square feet, its open sight lines and its proximity to other sporting facilities, such as nearby Kezar Stadium. It is also accessible to both Sunset and Richmond district residents.

"I think Waller Street is the better of the two choices," said Alioto-Pier.

Skateboarding in San Francisco dates back to the '80s, but it's been a controversial ride. Depending on your perspective, it is either a bane or a boom. The City was considered a skateboarding mecca throughout the '90s and people came from all over the world to be part of the scene here, say skateboarding aficionados.

Mirkirimi noted that the City is now host to the burgeoning skateboard industry worldwide.

"You talk about growing cottage industries, like green tech; there is also skateboard tech, with several skateboard manufacturers, many skateboard shops and related media located here," he said.

But skateboarding's dark side - the property damage caused by the skateboarders - has been a headline-grabber.

"There has been substantial damage to city-owned property over the years," said Ron Miguel, the president of the Planning Association for the Richmond and a member of the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority.

"Skateboarders have now taken over the Concourse. The damage they have caused is real, and it is a significant cost to repair skateboard-induced damage. Some of it will be there forever," he said, displaying photos detailing some of the damage done to the Concourse area.

The Skateboarding Task Force created by the Board of Supervisors several years ago recommended creating five "world class" skating facilities throughout the City in its final report.

"If you give people a place to skate they will not be skating in public venues and doing damage to areas not designed for skateboarding," said Ted Lowenberg, chairman of the task force.

But whether parks will satisfy the skaters' needs is a loaded question, according to Bryan Hornbeck, a member of the SF Skateboarding Association.

"Parks are a great thing and they give people who do a certain kind of skating a place to skate, but street skating will never go away. A culture of street skating has developed, and some skaters will skate the street no matter what. A true skateboarder is a street skater. It is more challenging," Hornbeck said.

Mirkirimi concurs.

"Skateboarding is a mobile and nomadic activity and skateboarders like new challenges," he said.