By Neena Strichart
In what turned out to be a mildly heated discussion regarding a proposed skateboarding facility at Bixby Knolls Park, those for and against the concrete “skate spot” listened to 8th District Councilmember Rae Gabelich give her opinion during the meeting she conducted last Wednesday night.
The dozens of Long Beach residents attended the meeting after receiving a hand-delivered flyer last Saturday. The flyer read: Councilwoman Rae Gabelich invites you to a community meeting to discuss the proposed skate park for Bixby Knolls Park; Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 6:30PM; Expo Building, 4321 Atlantic Avenue. Join us for this opportunity to create a healthy recreation zone for our Eighth District youth. Your input is important for the success of this project. For more information please call (562) 570-6685.
According to Eighth District staffer Jonathan Kraus, the flyer was distributed to residents within a quarter-mile radius of the Bixby Knolls Park.
Also addressing the crowd was skate park advocate and former 7th District Councilmember Mike Donelon, as well as Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell.
Gabelich began the meeting by explaining that the gathering was just the beginning of the process and assured the audience that she had looked at several sites for a “skate spot” in the 8th District before choosing Bixby Knolls Park as the most viable location for the new 3,500- square-foot skate park. “Skate parks have changed over the last decade,” said Gabelich as she explained that smaller concrete facilities were now preferable over larger, space-consuming areas. “We looked at Scherer Park– we’d lose a lot of trees, and Los Cerritos [Park] is too far off the beaten path.” Gabelich also allowed that Scherer Park is already the home of a dog park.
Donelon, introduced by Gabelich as “The King of Skate Parks,” took the microphone and gave the audience some information to consider. According to Donelon, skaters average in age from 12 to 17 years and, although there are hundreds of thousands of skateboarders who use skate parks in the United States, there have been no known lawsuits or reported deaths at any of those parks. After his address of the crowd, Donelon explained that the purpose of the proposed park is not to draw from surrounding areas. “[It’s] really for neighborhood kids,” he said.
Before the public question period began, Donelon showed a six-minute video produced by the Tony Hawk Foundation. The purpose of the video was to promote a skateboard area within McBride Park, which is located in Central Long Beach at 16th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, across the street from Long Beach Poly High School.
Acting as facilitator for the public-discussion portion of the meeting, Anna Mendiola of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine did her best to keep the input respectful and fair and insisted that speakers not interrupt one another. The resident of a home just two doors from the park, Marian Lyman, protested the proposed usage and described the park as a “place of serenity people go to to read books …meditate. We moved to that area for the quiet. The only noise we have is airplanes flying over.” To add to her defense, Lyman said, “We need greenbelts– we don’t need more cement.”
Conversely, California Heights resident Jerry Schuman declared that skateboarding is a sport. “I’m 51 years old, and I still skate,” Schuman said. “Putting a label on these kids as hooligans is bull. The park is small, dinky. This is a small thing in the grand scheme of things.
Echoing Schuman’s sentiment was local realtor Greg Ernst, who described the kids as “coming [to skate parks] to get their energy out.” Ernst also pooh-poohed those who claimed skateboarders would bring drugs to the area. “You can’t do drugs and skate. You’ll die,” claimed Ernst.
When asked about supervision of the skate parks, Donelon made it known that the areas are not supervised, although rules are generally posted nearby, as they would be in Bixby Knolls Park should the venue be approved. Rules include the requirement of safety equipment (helmets, knee and elbow pads), skating at one’s own risk, no graffiti, no smoking, and no glass or bottles.
Hours were also questioned since the skating area would not be lit after dark, but the proposed facility was to be open the same as regular park hours– dawn to dusk– yet the city charter indicates that closing time is 10pm.
Before the close of the meeting, Gabelich told the audience that their input was indeed wanted and needed. She also said that a final decision was far in the future since private funding of $200,000 would need to be garnered as would the blessings of the Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council. Promises of future public meetings were made.