LONG BEACH In the 16 months since city of Long Beach staff moved its skate park out of Culbertson Park, the once-regular complaints about loud cursing and other teenaged hijinx have completely dried up.
Now, the park sits in the middle of an empty field off of Sid Snyder Drive, far from the eyes and ears of the community. There are no complaints at the parks new location either but thats probably because very few use the roughly $35,000 structure anymore. On three sunny afternoons over the last two weeks, the skate park was deserted. On a fourth visit, only two boys on bicycles used the facility.
For about eight years, the skate park was situated behind the tennis court in Culbertson Park, readily accessible to families and in plain sight of the police station and several businesses.
In a community where most entertainment caters to tourists or senior citizens, the park was a small but meaningful concession to Peninsula youth. Skaters and freestyle BMX bike riders used the parks ramps and slide rails on a daily basis, and friends came to watch, staying until the sun went down.
But the skate ramps were far less popular with senior citizens and parents of young children, who expected to have a tranquil experience while visiting Culbertson Park.
Drumbeat of complaints
Between May 2010 and May 2012, citizens made 26 skate-park-related complaints to the Long Beach Police department about one complaint a month. City Hall staff received complaints too.
Three skater-related police reports addressed minor scuffles and bullying, three more addressed thefts, and police say the park was vandalized at least twice.
But the vast majority of complaints related to typical teenage mischief running in front of cars, smoking, skating after dark, and more than anything, vulgar language.
During that two-year period, residents called the police station to complain about noise and cursing 10 times.
The citys financial director David Glasson said Tuesday morning that during the time the park was open, the skaters trashed restrooms, had sex in the ballparks dugouts, smoked marijuana by the pond, and stacked up the parks picnic tables to make structures they could climb on and jump off of.
Glasson said he tried personally to encourage the kids to take more ownership of the park, but it didnt work. Once the park was closed, the mischief mostly stopped, Glasson said.
The fact of the matter is, it was a constant pain for our crew every day. You took the park away from the kids and the families and you gave it to maybe a dozen, two dozen kids? That just isnt right, Glasson said.
Sunday afternoon, Ilwaco High School students Arber Demiri and Hunter Stockfleth chose to ride a homemade half-pipe at Jason Knotts North Long Beach property instead of using the city skate park.
Demiri was one of several youths who encouraged the city council to keep the skating facility in the heart of the community in June 2012.
Stockfleth, a state tournament wrestler and firefighting cadet, bristles at the perception that all of the skaters were troublemakers. When it was located downtown, one or two bad apples who are no longer around gave the whole group a bad rap, he said. Both young men feel that the reports of families being subjected to hostile behavior were overblown.
Nobody had a problem with anybody, Stockfleth said, My grandmother would be sitting with me talking with all the teenagers like it was nothing.
Stockfleth and Demiri acknowledged that the skaters did have foul mouths though in their recollection, all but a very few would curb their language when asked.
You know, were teenagers. You get mad, youre gonna cuss, Stockfleth explained.
Last years move
At the beginning of summer 2012, city officials got fed-up with the complaints, and decided to close the park until they could figure out what to do with it.
In June, the council voted to move the skating facility to its new location, and banish skaters from the Culbertson Park parking lot.
At the time, councilman Del Murry told skaters who attended a June 18, 2012 meeting that the move was an opportunity to upgrade the very basic facility, or even get the ball rolling on a new permanent park.
[W]e need to do something, and I think this is an opportunity for kids to step up. Its a win-win situation in my eyes, Murry said.
More than a year later, neither city officials nor skaters have improved the facility, and Murry has changed his stance.
Its not a real win-win situation, Murry said in a phone interview Monday afternoon.
I think a lot of parents that have young kids wont let them go over there because its not supervised very much, Murry said.
This Sunday, Stockfleth and Demiri said theyre glad the city didnt shut the skate park down completely, but feel frustrated with the numerous limitations of the new site, which include a remote location, total absence of lighting, and almost no paved surfaces.
The soft sand surrounding the skate ramps is bad for skateboard wheel bearings, and holds little appeal for practitioners of a sport designed for concrete and asphalt.
With only one short stretch of sidewalk next to the ramps, the range of possible activities is seriously limited.
You cant mix it up, Stockfleth explained.
Besides, both boys acknowledged, skating is a fundamentally social activity, and kids who work hard at perfecting athletic, daredevil maneuvers want to see, and be seen by others.
With the Culbertson parking lot off-limits and little opportunity for human contact at the rural skate ramp, at least one of the boys friends has taken to skateboarding downtown, where an ordinance forbids it, racking up a couple of hefty fines in the process.
Last week, Long Beach Police Chief Flint Wright said that he personally didnt mind the skaters, but has asked his officers to step up enforcement of downtown skating ordinances at the citys request. Though theyve only given two citations in the last several months, Wright said they have occasionally confiscated boards, and asked wayward skaters to have their parents come collect them from the station.
Weve given tons and tons of warnings, Flint said, If its a priority to city hall, its a priority to me.
The best solution, according to Murry, is to get city officials and skaters alike involved in a bid to build a permanent park that will be provide a constructive outlet for teenagers, and serve as a source of community pride. Murry points out that the Peninsula is probably the only coastal community that does not have a real skate park.
In places like Astoria, Seaside, and Cannon Beach, skate parks are viewed as tourist attractions rather than nuisances, Murry said: These cities are doing this because they see a value in it.
Monday afternoon, Astoria Parks and Recreation director Angela Cosby said that Astorias well-designed skate park is heavily used, by skaters of all ages, and provides an additional attraction for families who come to Astoria to enjoy other tourist amenities.
Vandalism and violence are rare in their park, Cosby said.
The skaters do tend to police themselves a good amount, Cosby said. Police do respond to the facility semi-regularly, Cosby added, but its usually to tell kids to wear their helmets.
As long as the skate park sits in the field, local skaters will continue to feel that city officials are more interested in pushing a problem out of sight than they are in creating a safe, constructive place for teens to spend their time.
They dont want anything to do with us, Stockfleth said. But he noted that there is one advantage to the new site with no more risk of offending families, the teenagers feel free to curse as much as they like.