Hating on the skate park

I just received the longest complaint letter from a resident since my Berkeley days. The letter writer thinks the city is making a big mistake by building a skate park next to the water park.

Not because the water park is for little kiddies, which means the city will face pressure to build a wussie skate park for little kiddies as opposed to a more legit skate park for older kids and heavily tatooed twenty-somethings. But because skateparks = crime, graffiti, drugs, Avril Lavigne music, etc.

Here’s the letter.

The City of Fremont is about to make the biggest mistake in its 50+ year history. It is planning to spend over two million dollars of taxpayer money on a skateboard park, and unfortunately it is choosing to put the Skateboard Park next to the new Aqua Adventure Waterpark. While that site may ease the one-time effort for a few city employees, it will be a choice eventually regretted by all. It WILL negatively impact the new Waterpark and bring increasing crime into Fremont.

Rather than listen to those whose judgment you may question, why not learn from actual incidences in the local area in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past? The Livermore City Council thought they knew what they were doing when they allowed a skateboard park in their city. After the element that skateboard parks attract moved in and created havoc, the city council unanimously realized that they had made a terrible mistake. They all wanted to take back their previous approvals and were at a loss as to how to salvage the situation (check out the facts reported in the Livermore Times at www.skateparkcentral.com/News/Print%20Valley%20Times%203-31-2002.pdf ).

Roger Ravenstad the architect for the Fremont Skateboard Park project who coincidently lives in Livermore, tried to downplay these facts with a sales pitch on VISIBILITY, claiming that the Livermore site had been too isolated and that a stronger police presence WOULD prevent that in nearby Fremont. How can a skateboard park be more visible than an unobscured 200 feet from the front entrance of a police station? The Skateboard Park in nearby Union City is just that close with an unobscured view. On June 1, 2010 at 10:15 a.m., I visited the inside of that Union City Skateboard Park for a few minutes and took the enclosed photos. I had seen just one sample as I was there for only a few minutes that one time, but I was very disappointed. There was graffiti clearly visible, which was probably even worse at one time as I saw clear evidence of many areas that had been painted over. Roger had earlier said, “Skateboarders wouldn’t put graffiti in the bowls because it would make the surfaces slippery.” Well, someone did put graffiti there and that element was attracted by the Skateboard Park. If the Skateboard Park in nearby Union City wasn’t so close to a police station, who knows how much worse the skateboard area would have been vandalized or even trashed during off-hours. In that situation, the structures surrounding the Skateboard Park would clearly have been in jeopardy.

The previous Skateboard Park in Fremont was in the backyard of the police station, yet they admit it had drug and graffiti problems. Roger indicated that although the previous site was right next to the police station, it had VISIBILITY problems … that unfortunately from their offices, the police couldn’t directly see over the mound of dirt that was in the way, so therefore it made sense (to him) to move it a mile further from the police station and then rely on police cars driving by to keep all of the problems encountered in the past under control. That was not an easy sell, and I don’t know of anyone who would believe that. (It doesn’t take much to project that the drug and graffiti problems at the previous Fremont site are going to escalate by orders of magnitude as the distance from the police station increases and that doesn’t factor in the significant increase in size of the Skateboard Park.) I brought up that strategically placing WebCams throughout would solve VISIBILITY concerns at that previous site and be a favorable bonus to the skateboarders as well because they could easily view their activity and show accomplishments. (At a mile away from a police station, such WebCams would not be effective to catch off-hour crime because a simple disguise and the time lag to even immediately travel that mile, makes for an easy get-away and almost a certainty that they will never get caught. The response time from a mile away to stop a crime that takes only seconds or relying on police cars simply passing by to be a serious deterrent is unlikely. It is more likely that the VISIBILITY from the Waterpark site, will allow perpetrators to see police cars coming “from a mile away” and crime in that area would flourish.)

Someone speaking before the Fremont City Council on June 1, 2010 in favor of a skateboard park for her son actually quoted from the Tony Hawk Foundation that out of a survey of 100 officers, “95% of police officers reported no major crimes occurring at skate parks in their community”. Unfortunately, 95% isn’t 100% (it comes up 5% short). This is similar to an airline stating that 95% of their flights don’t crash – implying “only” 5% do crash. I also certainly would not want to hear “95% of spokespersons reported no major leaks occurring at oil rigs in their area”. (Most of us know what far less than a 1% failure has done.) The quote from the Tony Hawk Foundation is actually a VERY disturbing stat in that it reveals 5% of police officers reported that major crimes actually occurred at skate parks in their community … that there are those who don’t play by the rules and commit major crimes at skateboard parks. As a contrast, I doubt that public swimming pools or public tennis courts in any location have anywhere near this problem rate. I would hope that the major crimes at such facilities are essentially 0%. So that would imply that skateboard parks have MANY times the problem rate of some other facilities. To continue quoting from someone who was trying to convince the general public of the advantage of bringing in a skateboard park by mentioning “favorable” skateboard stats from the Tony Hawk Foundation, “Once a skateboard park is built, 47% said there was an overall decrease in youth crime.” This infers that a majority of officers (53%) either said that implementing a skateboard park made no overall difference or there was actually an overall INCREASE in youth crime. That is also not encouraging and would discourage the building of a skateboard park anywhere. Why pay out two million dollars for something that statistically doesn’t reduce youth crime, but may actually even increase youth crime? To make matters worse, I would question a group that has a profit motive to sell skateboard video games, to reveal the full unfavorable facts, so it is quite likely that the reality is even worse than someone affiliated with Tony Hawk would lead people to believe. (Was that sample of 100 officers purposely limited to only those reporting from the 100 most favorable communities in the country or were they truly random? In those instances where 5% of officers reported major crimes at skate parks in their community, how many major crimes did each report … was it “only” one or as many as a thousand? Is it possible that many crimes went unreported? How many skateboarders committed major crimes away from the Skateboard Park?) These stats from the Tony Hawk Foundation guarantee that as a minimum, major crimes are committed at skateboard parks (articles on the Web did indicate repeated gang activity at the San Ramon Skateboard Park).

There is a whole range of possibilities for the major crimes of assault and worse (note that in the 6/22/10 issue of Tri-City Voice a skateboarder found near the intersection of Civic Center Dr and Walnut Ave in Fremont is being charged with attempted murder), but let’s just stick with graffiti, which will be a given visible and costly problem. The facts are that cities waste millions of taxpayer dollars in cleaning up graffiti every year, again and again. Unlike other crimes, taggers want VISIBILITY. They want their efforts to be seen by as many as possible and for as long as possible. Choice spots would be areas that many people clearly see each day, such as freeway overpasses and areas along train routes. (note: Very insightful of Fremont to put BART under, rather than over Central Park. It may cost many times more initially, but in its implementation, they also eliminated the recurring cost of cleaning up graffiti, which adds up over the long run.) A prime spot, where over a thousand people a day would see their graffiti effort, would be the new Waterpark. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to extrapolate that if taggers have the nerve to put graffiti in a skateboard park 200 feet from a police station, one mile away from the nearest police station with excellent visibility to easily see any police cars coming, is going to make for a field day during off-hours.

Common sense says that there is essentially a 100% chance that after the Skateboard Park goes in, the adjacent Waterpark will now become a major target of vandals. There may be stupid criminals, but it wouldn’t take much thought to realize that after tagging the Skateboard Park, vandalizing the frequented Waterpark next door to highlight their effort is a given. The Waterpark presently has very simplistic static lighting, rather than dynamic, so there isn’t even an attention-getting system in place. Enforcement is too far away anyway to stop any criminal activity. They’ll never get caught. It takes only seconds to do damage and flee. Even in a close confrontation, they have so many directions to safely flee or areas to retreat to a safe hiding place including the nearby Nature Area, which is so thick with expanded growth that it would be ideal for a multitude of hiding places. It will only grow worse each time they inevitably get away. They’ll be back again and again to spread graffiti faster than it can be painted over. I would hope that this wasted taxpayer expense would be limited to graffiti and theft, but those on the loose frequenting right next door who don’t play by the rules would put the Waterpark at risk for being burned down or certainly damaged. (Do cost of repairs to the Waterpark due to its proximity to the Skateboard Park then come from the Skateboard Park fund? It should in this case. Has that been allocated? How about all the new graffiti that would now appear throughout the community? Or is there cheating done where the true cost impact of a skateboard park isn’t accurately reflected?)

Who would want to bring their families to places covered in graffiti and then have to fight for parking spaces that were previously already at a premium? The paid Waterpark attendance will only drop after the free Skateboard Park (that intends to open so much earlier) takes over that area, especially to those being ripped off by having to pay almost $9 just to get in to supervise their few children. (Rather than discouraging them with this additional charge, why can’t some of the two+ million dollars be spent on adding a bleacher section to extend the Waterpark to accommodate “babysitters” who have no intention of using the facilities, but only to be present to supervise their one or two children? That would be so much more appreciated. I’m not impacted – but how can the city impose such a charge, especially in financially tough times?)

Fremont is presently a nice and safe city. It should be a goal to maintain this favorable status. Bringing in a major Skateboard Park with an outlaw image into an area without ensuring that it can be kept under control 24/7 by constant supervision is reckless and only invites in criminal elements from around the Bay Area. Once a crime element is invited in, it can grow like a cancer. I have lived closer to the site for the pending Skateboard Park longer than anyone for more than the past 24 years. Over those years, I have been there 24/7 and know how fragile that area is as do the neighbors who reside in that area 24/7. Realistically the new Waterpark area is on the far end of Central Park, which makes it isolated by being a mile from the police station. (And not even on the main street to the police station.) That is a long way from guaranteeing a timely response. My personal experience is that the response time from the Fremont police department for a nuisance is about 3 days.

Although Paseo Padre Parkway may seem to be a busy thoroughfare at times during the day, after 8 p.m. there is hardly any traffic and it becomes very peaceful. While most homes across from the Waterpark have double windows and never hear traffic, loud booming music does permeate (as does the excessively loud city-controlled Waterpark PA system which can still be heard throughout the inside of homes, even though some are over 500 feet away!). We can’t do anything about loud annoying booming music coming sporadically from passing cars (that can be heard almost a block away), but when loud music persists from the same location after midnight for hours and runs the same time for days on end, it seems that such predictability can be easily tracked down. Last year, for more than a few uninterrupted hours around midnight to 4 a.m. for days straight, I heard probably the same source from behind the Waterpark. After realizing that it was probably going to continue to go on for days, I called it in around 2 a.m. the forth day. It didn’t stop until 4 a.m., so it was possible the police never tracked it down. The next day when I heard the same thing I called it in again at 2 a.m. Again it didn’t stop until 4 a.m. On the third day, in my next call at 2 a.m., I expressed my frustration and it finally stopped in about an hour and I never heard it again.

It’s petty and petty nuisances in the Waterpark area probably don’t even show up on the police radar. The police must already realize that the Waterpark area is a mile away from the station and the visibility of seeing the police cars coming is so obvious, that they are just wasting time by going there. Patrol cars passing by also have to be discouraged by this “advanced warning” to perpetrators, so no one should expect responses to the Skateboard Park and Waterpark to be any different. Beyond loud music after midnight, neighbors have witnessed sideshows taking place in that same isolated area behind the Waterpark. It probably doesn’t show up on the police reports. It happens, but why bother calling it in? The Waterpark area is again too far away from the police station for them to be effective and the perpetrators of these activities know that. It wouldn’t happen near a police station, but the visibility FROM the Waterpark area is so good to see any police cars coming, that by the time the police get there, the cars committing the reckless donuts and the like are long gone or they have enough time that it can easily be made to look like they are just innocently parking in that isolated parking area behind the Waterpark. Again, they’ll never get caught.

Accessing skateboarding web postings dominated by the teen age group reveals that they try to push the limits to what they can get away with and then spread the word among themselves. The City of Fremont admitted that there were drug problems at the last Fremont skateboard site right next to the police station. Common sense says that with an even better visibility to see the police coming in cars from quite a distance, drug activity at the Waterpark area will be an order of magnitude worse. It is quite likely that everyone at the new Skateboard Park will be exposed to drugs. WebCams help, but closeness to the police station is an even bigger factor. The backside of the planned Skateboard Park will be a popular gathering spot for after-hour drug activity as visibility to see them there is almost zero and yet they can see anyone coming. It probably will become very profitable for drug dealing as word quickly gets around on the Web. Drug paraphernalia and needles have already been found in a front yard across the street from the Waterpark, so once the Skateboard Park moves in, it would be a virtual guarantee that needles would be appearing around the Waterpark area faster than they can be cleaned up, especially in the area behind the new Waterpark. After the easy access to drugs, the experimenting with more and more powerful drugs will be another given. The progression of profitable drug dealing bringing in gangs, leading to gang wars over turf, also seems so likely. I don’t think families would want to be encountering drug needles or gangs on their way to a “safe” Waterpark, so they’ll never be back. (This would severely impact the paid Waterpark attendance.) I’m an optimistic person, but I’m also realistic. I don’t see why this wouldn’t follow a similar progression of what happened in Livermore. It would likely be even worse as word on the Web quickly gets around and an access to BART would bring in crime from all around the Bay Area.

Why would anyone take such an enormous risk to try to mix a free skateboard park in with a paid waterpark in an area so far away from any police station? It is so obviously detrimental to the area with such a disaster in the making with SO MUCH to lose and even in the best case, nothing to win that can’t be achieved by putting the Skateboard Park closer to a police station. Why not bring back the 4th of July Fireworks? What were the problems with that? What is the difference? When we will ever learn? Why not make corrections now rather than when it may be too late?

There are skateboarders of decent character. I would think that the ones that attend classrooms to better themselves are not the ones that normally create trouble. Even if we assume that 100% of skateboarders are the most well behaved group on this planet and must be accommodated, the proposed Fremont Skateboard Park site on the edge of Central Park is not in the best location for them. It is much further away than the previous site from the existing Teen Center, library, ball fields, eating establishments, businesses, downtown, main artery (Stevenson Blvd), BART, as well as the police station. (The only thing the proposed Skateboard Park is close to is the homes of residents who only want to maintain the peace and quiet of the status quo.) As a consequence of the increased distance to the planned Skateboard Park and the only routing available, significantly increased skateboard traffic zipping through the middle of Central Park will result as skateboarders are forced to repeatedly travel the sidewalks along Lake Elizabeth and past playgrounds and/or the Senior Center to get between their many destinations, putting the safety of pedestrians and children at risk. This will be a concern everyday of the year from dawn until after 10 p.m. at night. The number of skateboarders will multiply then again when skateboard exhibition events take place and out-of-town skateboarders (some will be reckless) from the arteries served by BART join in. This excess of skateboarders traversing on sidewalks right through the heart of Central Park would be opening up the city to a host of negligence and liability issues.

Skateboarders would not want to be bombarded with constantly complaining neighbors, but have their own area, where they can do what they want and be as loud as they want until at least 10 p.m. everyday. I also don’t think that any responsible adult would argue that skateboard parks draw an element that may better be kept under control near a police station (combined with strategic WebCams within the Skateboard Park to curtail illegal activity). The previously approved Skateboard Park site that was in use for years right next to the police station can be made ideal to satisfy both. If that area isn’t big enough, there is over an acre of land right next to the existing Teen Center, immediately north off Sailway Drive. Substantial parking is conveniently right there as are restrooms. The parking area, along with Sailway Drive, actually splits this area apart from the rest of the park, so it presently doesn’t seem to get hardly any usage. Roger Ravenstad said that the City did not want to disrupt this spot for a skateboard site because, “they already put a sprinkler system in”. It is inexcusable for the City to eliminate this site and chose to instead jeopardize the integrity of the Waterpark, ignore the skateboarders recurring best interest and ignore the recurring peace and quiet of residents as well, in favor of saving the City a simple one-time effort. The Skateboard Park could be placed right there to satisfy a lot of people. (Other than concern over the expenses, it may satisfy both the listed pros and cons of an article on a skateboard park in the area of Golden Gate Park that is located next to a police station. Check out the facts in the San Francisco Examiner April 25, 2010 => www.sfexaminer.com/local/Polemic-skate-park-rolls-along-91977939.html ). Other than the Teen Center, the closest buildings are businesses and all of these are much further than 300 feet away. An existing city storage facility provides an additional buffer. (Minor note: Visible signs accurately directing to this potential new Skateboard Park site are already in place, left over from the old site since they were never taken down.) If something satisfying to all can’t presently be made to work, then it may be best to wait until after the BART activity is finished and more suitable sites become available.

The City of Fremont has never been able to come up with even just one reason why the Waterpark site is in the best interest of skateboarders or one reason why it is in the best interest of residents of Fremont. I can understand the skateboarders being willing to accept a 2 million dollar park anywhere, especially when it doesn’t cost them a cent and questioning anything may put it all in jeopardy. (It is likely that the Waterpark site would actually only be preferred by those skateboarders choosing to pursue illegal activities.) Somehow, the dissemination of information regarding the development of a Skateboard Park next to the Waterpark has been limited to the skateboard community and to those who work for the City or have time in their busy schedules to attend every City Council meeting. How was this development communicated? Skateboard websites? The Teen Center? Via a news release on skateboards, which required reading the entire article to discover embedded information rather than at least emphasizing the headline “Two Million Dollar Fremont Skateboard Park To Be Developed Next To Waterpark”? Any of that would be indirect and it would be a mistake to assume that it reached any of those most impacted. As a minimum, direct mail should have been sent as soon as possible to property owners impacted by any development to better ensure that residents in the immediate area of the pending development would be given an opportunity to state any objections in a timely manner. All property owners are on public record that is easily accessible to the City. As it was, NONE of the residents in the area across the street from the Waterpark were EVER informed by the City of Fremont of this pending skateboard development. NONE of those residents knew anything about a skateboard park in Fremont being anywhere other than right next to the police station until I informed them in May 2010. All residents directly impacted by such a development should have been informed well in advance of the point where the City says, “Sorry, it’s too late … we’ve already made up our minds and a one-acre two million dollar skateboard park is going in your front yard whether you like it or not.” Contrary to what the City of Fremont has led newspapers to believe, residents in the immediate area were NOT notified of the project earlier in the year. NO ONE in the vicinity of this planned development knew anything about it until April 29, 2010 when I stumbled upon a skateboard article that made mention of a new Skateboard Park being planned next to the Waterpark. This was apparently long after the City had already made decisions. The City of Fremont has been very deceitful if it has led anyone to believe that they informed residents on Paseo Padre Parkway directly across the street from the Waterpark of a pending development of a Skateboard Park.

Strangely enough, all of the other developments that have taken place and are taking place in the Waterpark area and in the community were noted well in advance to the neighbors. This included the Waterpark itself, which is even further away from our homes. The neighbors were informed and well aware of everything going on other than the idea of a skateboard park moving in right across the street. Once I became aware that none of the residents in the area had been informed in any manner from the City of Fremont of a skateboard park that was now being planned next to the Waterpark, I suggested to Roger Ravenstad to post a sign at what he had chosen as the pending skateboard site. Anything … something as simple as what was posted in the Waterpark area long before it was developed or the simple banner that the City did for the one-day Fremont Kite Day, to state something like “Future home of Fremont Skateboard Park” to help spread the word to those passing by that area as to what was being planned for that area. Although he acknowledged that as a good idea, over a month later, I still don’t see any sign or any clue as to what is going on in that area. Many of those who pass by Central Park still don’t know what is going on. The old Skateboard Park sign on Paseo Padre Parkway still indicates that the Skateboard Park is accessible via Sailway Drive and then there is still another Skateboard Park sign near the Teen Center. Why are these misleading signs still in place and why is there still limited communication?

Two million dollars is a lot of money to spend on a skateboard park that will always be a financial burden rather than an economic generator. An inappropriate site selection can easily further turn that two million dollar expense into a money pit that draws criminal elements that in-turn can also impact nearby structures. So many other organizations could certainly make better use of such generous financial funding (donate it to Oakland so they don’t have to layoff so many police officers, contribute toward building a Children’s Hospital, or simply add computers with access to the Web to get more teenagers into the Teen Center). If it is conceded that an elaborate skateboard park has to be built in Fremont, the combination of being close to a police station and appropriate use of WebCams are essential. Without properly applying this combination, Fremont is likely to fall from grace into what Livermore experienced (too far from a police station) or Union City (no WebCams). A permanent site should not have significant risks. If a city is not willing to go through the effort to make a skateboard park fit on a site reasonably close to a police station and sensibly away from residences, then why have a skateboard park at all?

Matt Artz