Get Off My Lawn! Old People-Skateboarder Relations Go Downhill in Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach residents don't get riled up over too many things--who can get mad surrounded by all of that surf, sun and beautiful scenery?

Thursday night was a different story, however. At the monthly public meeting of the beachside city's Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee, debates raged between some of Laguna Beach's oldest residents and supporters of one of its oldest cultural institutions.

The talking point? Skateboarding, or a ban of it, to be exact.

Knowing the turnout would be larger than usual, the committee moved the meeting to the gym of Thurston Middle School. In all, about 80 people attended the meeting. Quotes from meeting after the jump.

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Longtime Laguna Beach resident Alex Bernstein, despite not being a really old person, has led the charge for regulation of downhill skateboarding on hills with a three percent grade. The proposal would also limit skateboarding to 10 mph or less.

While Bernstein said he's also for allowing kids to continue skateboarding in Laguna Beach, he stated that the problems resulting from exceedingly dangerous situations.

Bernstein's proposal is not unlike past attempts in the city to curb the inherent danger of the sport and limit accidents. However, with a skating culture that is so ingrained in the fabric of Laguna Beach, and with a hilly terrain that beckons the city's young skaters to rocket down them as fast as possible, many skaters said at the meeting that an outright ban of the sport would do more harm than good.

The residents who were for the skateboarding ban were made up mostly of older folk, though there were a few concerned younger parents as well.

The group of attendees opposed to the skateboarding ban, on the other hand, was more numerous and a lot more diverse--opponents of the ban ranged from the very old to the very young. Mixed in this group were parents, professional skaters and at least one doctor clad in scrubs.

As you can imagine, once the committee opened the floor to public discussion, the arguments back and forth kind of resembled the first minute and a half of this scene from Good Will Hunting.

Or maybe this one from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

In any case, the crowd was definitely civil, with each person who stood up to speak giving his or her own thoughtful argument. Both sides produced solutions like regulating safety equipment for all skateboarders, limiting the times that skaters could be allowed on steep hills and installing facilities at which skaters could safely practice their sport.

The most serious spat came when Bernstein went over his allotted time of three minutes. Hisses and boos could be heard from the audience when he requested more time, which he was given.

Even with the vitriol, Bernstein continued on . . .
 
"No one is banning skateboarding in Laguna Beach. Anyone can skate anywhere they like, except on steep hills. . . . Mothers of skateboarders are worried and even traumatized."

Bernstein said that every skater is at risk of injury, stating that even professional skaters have died recently from injuries suffered while skating. He advocated safe regulation of the sport, just as surfing and cycling in Laguna Beach are regulated.

However, many from the group of skaters at the meeting stated that the regulations in the proposal didn't make sense. A 10 mph speed limit was practically laughable for skaters who reach much greater speeds.

One skater, Schuyler Vanderveen, who won last night's "Hardest Name to Spell" contest, went so far as to say that older drivers were the problem, not skateboarders.

"Calling for a ban on skateboarding because of limited risk would require also banning surfing, scuba diving and mountain biking. People are injured doing all of these things, but the risk is limited. Getting behind the wheel is dangerous, particularly if you're over 65."

He went on to quote a few statistics about the dangers of seniors driving cars:

"In recent studies by Carnegie Mellon University and the AAA Foundation, fatality rates for drivers after age 65 begin to decline, but for drivers 85 and older skyrockets nearly four times higher."

Diane Cannon, whose son Thomas nearly died in a skateboarding accident in 2003 according to the Laguna Beach Independent, was totally against allowing the dangerous sport to continue.

"If you think that building a park is going to stop these kids from skating all over the Laguna village, you're wasting your money," she said. "I personally think [skateboarding] should be completely banned in the Laguna area."

The skaters insisted that, contrary to what some residents think, they are in total control of their boards when they skate downhill at high speeds.

One woman who stood up to speak said that she confronted a skater coming down a hill, telling him that she almost hit him with her car.

"I walked up to him and said 'Evan, what are you doing? I almost hit you.' And he said, 'No, you did not almost hit me. You think maybe you almost hit me, but I know what I'm doing. I'm practicing my sport.'

"You can't take the dance out of a ballerina," she continued. "You're not going to take the skate out of these kids. . . . We need to stop profiling these kids as hooligans. They're not coming out of the halfway house."

Once the PTC committee votes on what their recommendation will be, the Laguna Beach City Council has the final say on whether the proposals go forward. PTC chair man Curt Bartsch gave no official date as to when the committee will vote on the proposal.


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