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Can skaters self-regulate enough to keep new SLO park unfenced?

Jordan Bell

San Luis Obispo city leaders are questioning whether the newly-opened skate park can continue operating as is, after some community complaints regarding after-hours use and trash.

Around nine o'clock on a Tuesday night, there are plenty of people of all ages at the park, mostly a cross section of the SLO community, but they're all males.  Lines form throughout the park as skaters wait for their turns, holding their boards.

This scenario repeats all night: You'll see a skater take off, it's quiet for a moment and when they land a trick or finish a run boldly, you'll hear a lot of cheering and the excited pounding of boards hitting the concrete. 

David Nichols is the father two young boys. He says that he drives from Atascadero about three days a week to bring them here. Nichols says that he knows of a lot of people, like him, who travel to use this place.

Nichols says that they've sampled a lot of parks around the U.S. and this one has the best structure and environment.

"The older guys give the younger kids space and nobody's reckless, that I've seen. There's a little bit of foul language that's going on, but when the kids are around they seem to try to edit it a bit. And, I mean, they smoke over on the back wall over there, but again, they don't come through the park smoking, they kind of keep it in a designated area," said Nichols. "I haven't found them offensive as a parent."

San Luis Obispo's Mayor Jan Marx says that skate culture has values like personal excellence, courage, and resilience and she hopes to see the good values of skating exemplified through this park.

However, she says that there has been evidence of cigarette butts, litter, alcohol consumption and reports of people skating after hours.

"The question right now for the city is whether we're going to be able to leave it open and free. And what will make that possible is if people obey the rules voluntarily, rather than having to have the city enforce them," said Marx.

Mayor Marx calls the effort to build a new park 'grassroots' from within the skating community.

In 2006, supporters showed up to the council's goal setting meeting.

"They were there in mass. I mean, I think there were over a hundred kids and supporters and they were actually talking about the poor conditions of the existing skate park," said Marx. 

In response, the council made skate park improvement a major city goal. City staff eventually realized it was more about building a new park than making improvements to the existing one.  The project took some time because of the recession, but was finished this year.

Kaleb Black was ten years old during that first goal setting meeting. He's now 20. He says that the skaters who helped create this park are not the ones disrespecting it now.

"They're not the ones who fought for the park,which is kind of unfair, because everyone who sees that kind of like categorizes them as skaters," Black said. "People who actually fought for the park and who wanted the park and were patient for it, aren't the ones leaving the trash."

Black says they try to help pick-up trash to keep the place clean and that he and his friends leave when the lights turn off. However—in line with community concerns—there are those who stay late. In some cases, some of those who stayed late said that it's because they feel intimidated when the park is full.

Black is adamant about the idea of self-regulation and says that he feels the situation will get better in time.

It remains to be seen if the skate community's self monitoring will be enough to keep the park unfenced. The mayor says she is currently taking a 'wait and see' approach.

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