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Calabasas Skate Park Ends Its Short Run

Recreation: City shuts down facility after attendance plummets while courses in many communities thrive.

September 23, 2002|KARIMA A. HAYNES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alexander Mosich Miller careens around the playground at A.E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas, skateboarding off stairs, riding rails and grinding metal against asphalt.

The wide-open pavement, staircases and ramps are perfect for the 13-year-old boy's high-flying antics. He hustles to get in a few stunts before a maintenance worker chases him off the school grounds.

Alexander and his skating buddies tried the Calabasas temporary skate park when it opened two years ago but soon grew bored with its beginner equipment set up on a basketball court at Gates Canyon Park.

"The park was kind of small," Alexander said, shrugging his broad shoulders.

Unlike other communities where skate parks are thriving, Calabasas saw attendance plummet, prompting the City Council last week to shut it down.

It was an inauspicious end to a park launched with much fanfare in October 2000, in response to the death of 16-year-old Jason Lewin, who was hit by a car in June 1997 while roller skating in Calabasas. A group of youths and parents, called Save Our Skaters, pushed the city to create a safe place to skate.

The city spent $17,373 to buy equipment, pay staff salaries and lease a storage unit for equipment. The skate park was open four hours a day about three times a week. Skaters, required to wear helmets and pads, paid a $2 user fee.

About 600 skaters signed waivers to skate at the park when it opened, but now it is deserted.

"I would drive around town and see kids skating, and I told them about the skate park," said Jeff Rubin, the city's community service director. "They said they didn't want to wear helmets and pads. They said it was too small. They wanted bowls built into concrete."

Rubin's department offered discounted admission passes, skating lessons and private parties to no avail.

Calabasas Mayor James Bozajian said a permanent skate park is out of reach for the community of 20,000 residents because of exorbitant land prices, lack of suitable locations and neighborhood resistance to the noise.

"We are a small city and we can't afford to spend millions on a venture and have it fail," he said, adding that with a temporary park the city was "spending minimally to offer a service."

But it wasn't enough for Calabasas skaters who would rather travel to skate parks in Ventura and Simi Valley that feature half-pipes, quarter-pipes, bowls, ramps, humps and rails.

Unlike Calabasas, many communities across Southern California are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on large, challenging courses that draw thousands of kids, sidewalk surfers who would otherwise buzz through shopping centers, enraging business owners, pedestrians and drivers.

In Claremont, a private-public partnership raised $134,000 in 1998 for a 7,500-square-foot lighted skate park, said Dick Guthrie, director of human services in the city of 35,000 residents.

About 42,000 skaters a year "ollie," or leap, off stairs and race over smooth concrete from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at the free park, near a high school, teen center and a public bus line.

Finding success with its first skate park, Glendora officials are considering plans for a second one in the community of 49,000, said Cindy Griffith, an administrator in the city's community services department.

Communities with flourishing skate parks include Diamond Bar, San Dimas, La Verne, Compton, Lynwood and Long Beach.

Since 2001, Los Angeles has opened skate parks in Van Nuys, Sunland, Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and South Los Angeles.

"This was a voyage of discovery, because we didn't know if it was a fad or not," said Tony Coroalles, who oversees the parks for the city's recreation and parks department. "But it looks like it's going to be around for a while."

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