New Skate Park for Youths to Open

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It used to be that Berkeley police officers would kick four and five-year-old kids out of city parks if they were caught with a skateboard.

But after last week's City Council passage of an ordinance that finalizes the rules for the new Berkeley skate park, local skateboarders have the last laugh.

The skate park, which is scheduled to open in December, has not been a project without hurdles. In February, environmentalist L.A. Wood filed an appeal to the city that questioned the park's air quality.

Wood's appeal was based on a report from a city health officer who said emissions from local industrial plants and the I-80 freeway will put children who play at the park at risk, especially those who suffer from asthma. Wood's appeal was overruled.

In an effort to win over those who still have concerns, the city has gone out of its way to make the skateboard facility state-of-the-art, hiring a private engineering firm that specializes in designing skate parks.

The park boasts a "combination bowl" that is eight feet deep and a smaller three to six-foot bowl for less-experienced skaters to learn on.

"These bowls are kind of like swimming pools instead of halfpipes," said city landscape architect Mark Mennucci. "As far as I know, the combination bowls will be deeper than any other park in the state."

In addition, the park has a large street plaza that is three feet deep with a series of transitions.

The city Parks and Waterfront Department estimates the annual cost to light and maintain the park to be $12,000. Mennucci expects that the skaters using the park will abide by a skater "code of ethics" in following the rules.

"It's a little like surfing," Mennucci said. "If you're on the first wave no one else should get in your way."

The parks will allow patrons to use the facility from 6:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. City officials emphasized that they will not tolerate any activity on park grounds after it closes. There will be a locked fence to keep locals out.

In addition, the city requires that only people with skateboards and rollerblades enter the park so bystanders don't get hit by "flying skateboards," Mennucci said.

Another rule is that skaters cannot enter unless they are wearing protective equipment.

"If you don't provide these rules you can't take advantage of immunity provisions against liability," said city project planner Edward Murphy. "Parents could say, 'Gee wiz, why didn't they let us know it was dangerous?'"

Questions have also risen over whether the skate park will attract crime.

"Neighbors in the industrial area are worried that kids coming down the street on their skateboards might get hit by a truck," Murphy said. "Graffiti and trash have been worries as well, but the city intends to monitor the situation closely."

Kate Obenhour, a spokesperson for Friends for a Berkeley Skate Park, said she is annoyed by neighbors' fears.

"I'm beginning to be irritated with the undeserved labels that skateboarders have gotten," Obenhour said. "These kids are genuine athletes - just like soccer and baseball players."

Obenhour said the negative stereotypes of skateboarders have led them to adopt a criminal mentality of themselves. She said the skateboarders are a responsible group and will help monitor activities at the park.

"It breaks my heart that my own son says he hates cops," she said.

Obenhour attributes the lack of space for skateboarding as the reason why skateboarders have been often associated with deviance.

"You can't lock these kids in a closet," Obenhour said. "These kids have been underserved in Berkeley and communities across the country."


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