Riding a gnarly wave of publicity was the last thing Mark Ashamalla and three teen-age friends had in mind in December when they built a mammoth skateboard ramp in Mark's La Canada Flintridge backyard.
Landlocked and 17, Mark wanted a place where he and his friends could congregate to skate, and he figured the privacy of his backyard was just the place. He and three friends put up $3,000 to build the 50-foot ramp.
But neighbors figured differently. Many have barraged City Hall with complaints that skaters and onlookers litter, loiter, create noise and invade their privacy.
"The constant sound of wheels against wood is enough to drive you crazy," said Lois Moore, who lives next door to the Ashamalla home on Oakwood Avenue. "As a property owner, I don't think it's the thing for the neighborhood, and I would like to see it just shut down," she said.
To that end, she and about 20 neighbors on the quiet, semi-rural street south of Foothill Boulevard have hired an attorney and threatened lawsuits against the Ashamallas and La Canada Flintridge unless the skating stops, Moore said.
Meanwhile, the object of contention, a sleek, blond wooden contraption that curves effortlessly into a 20-foot arc on either side, has been shut down by the city until the two sides reach an agreement. A thick metal chain now crosses the plywood ramp, discouraging any would-be skaters who want to hang 10.
Neighbors have drawn up a five-page resolution that calls for dismantling the skateboard ramp by Sept. 15. They are willing to have it reopened until then, but only for eight people at a time and only on weekdays between noon and 5 p.m.
The teen-age partners plan to present a counteroffer sometime this week, with city officials to mediate.
'Why Can't We?'
"If we're going to have to tear it down, there's going to be some problems," Mark said. "People build tennis courts; why can't we build a skateboard ramp?"
The skating debate has scattered bad blood across the board.
Ramp opponents say that up to 30 riders at a time scare their horses, peer into their backyards and attract professional skaters and "scruffy" kids from outside the community. The Ashamallas counter that their visitors are well-behaved and that they have voluntarily set skating hours that are adhered to, for the most part. They have also agreed to make the ramp off limits to pros and non-local skaters.
What some neighbors really object to, the Ashamallas say, is that the ramp has attracted several black skaters. (La Canada Flintridge is predominantly white; according to the 1980 U.S. census, 25 of the city's 20,153 residents are black.) Neighbors deny that their complaints have racist undertones.
Skating aficionados and professionals who have visited the Ashamalla home say the ramp is a great skate.
"It's phenomenal. Everyone who is anyone goes there and says it's the best," said Grant Chamberlain, who works at Hot Skates in Glendale.
Angie Ashamalla, Mark's mother and a 14-year resident of La Canada Flintridge, says she never dreamed that the ramp would precipitate such conflict.
"My feeling is that it keeps kids off the street. My kid is very into skating and he is very responsible."
But what started out as a practical exercise in teen-age enterprise for Mark and his friends--Fred Stuhr, Nick Parada and Pat Solomon, all 18--turned into a painful lesson in public relations.
During the initial construction, neighbors would shout friendly advice over the fence as the teen-agers hammered, sawed and consulted blueprints, Angie Ashamalla recalled. Today, some of those neighbors turn away when they see the family on the street, she said.
Ashamalla said the boys raised the $3,000 seed money themselves by working part-time jobs and depleting savings. One skater's father, who works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, helped design the ramp. Another donated lumber.
Trouble began when the polyurethane wheels hit the wood in early January.
"It didn't dawn on me until, all of a sudden, this gigantic thing went up," Moore said. "I didn't even know what a skateboard ramp was."
Moore, whose house was up for sale earlier this year, says real estate agents balked at showing the property when they learned that it was next door to the skating ramp.
"It's an eyesore," she said.
In February, city officials responded to complaints from neighbors and inspected the ramp. They ordered the Ashamallas to obtain a building permit, bring the structure up to code and limit skating hours from noon to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Ramp Reopens Once
The Ashamallas complied and closed the ramp until May 1, when the city approved the modifications and allowed it to reopen.
By mid-May however, the Ashamallas had received another letter from the city, asserting that the ramp attracted too many people, that skaters were not obeying time limits and that the ramp was to be shut down again until the debate was resolved.
Whether the boys' endless summer is curtailed in September remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Mark and his friends say they plan to defend their right to skate.
"What we do in our backyard is our own business," Mark said.