Locals and pros alike have praised the new Encinitas Skate Plaza. But skateboarders say helmet tickets threaten the good vibe there.
In a first at the plaza, Sheriff’s deputies on March 10 gave five helmetless riders a citation, marking a shift from education to enforcement.
Encinitas Sheriff’s Capt. Theresa Adams-Hydar said that ever since the plaza opened in early January, deputies have repeatedly warned skateboarders that they must wear helmets. Signs posted there also serve as a reminder, she said.
“We started with the education phase,” Adams-Hydar said, adding that the Sheriff’s Department moved to citations upon the city’s request.
Last month, the Encinitas City Council approved an update to the city municipal code in order to make it clearer that all riders must wear helmets, elbow pads and kneepads at the plaza and other city skateparks. City staff recommended the change to further protect the city against lawsuits in the event of major skateboard injuries at skateparks.
“We’re enforcing the law,” Adams-Hydar said. “And secondly, older skateboarders need to set a good example for those young kids who are starting to skate. It’s about safety.”
Also, Adams-Hydar said the Sheriff’s Department gets one or two complaints daily from residents who are concerned about skateboarders riding at the plaza sans helmets.
For now, she said the Sheriff’s Department is focused on just helmets at the plaza. Enforcement isn’t targeting lack of elbow pads and kneepads.
Citations run from $100 to $500, according to Lisa Rudloff, Encinitas Parks and Recreation director. Whether a court appearance is required and other details weren’t available by press time.
Thomas Barker, who led the push to build the plaza, said that Carmel Valley and other communities with skateparks also have helmet laws on the books, but they don’t cite skateboarders.
“It’s heavy-handed and unnecessary,” Barker said.
Further, he said the citations were issued in an arbitrary fashion, because Sheriff’s deputies seemingly picked five people out of a large crowd. Adams-Hydar said she wasn’t there, so she can’t say why those particular skateboarders were cited.
On a given day, skateboarders wearing helmets are in the minority at the 13,000-square-foot skate plaza, which is often packed. Barker said the dangers of skateboarding without a helmet have been exaggerated.
“In the scare of liability in the ’90s, the push for helmets came from outside the skateboarding community,” he said. He added that a third of skateboarding injuries occur in a beginning skateboarder’s first week of riding, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“I am not against helmets for kids,” Barker said in an email urging the Encinitas City Council to stop enforcement. “We should work together to educate parents and youngsters about why helmets are important while you are learning to skateboard and let the experienced skateboarders and professional skateboarders go about their business.”
Skateboarders advocated for a community park for years, bemoaning the lack of spots to legally shred in Encinitas. When the plaza debuted at the start of the year, locals basked in the ramps and rails.
Barker said newfound goodwill between skateboarders and the city has taken a hit. He added that more citations would push skateboarders to instead ride in the streets, where studies show injuries are much more common.
The evening of March 10, news of the citations was posted on a Facebook page called Encinitas Skate Plaza, which Barker runs. Within 18 hours, the topic garnered 230 comments.
A few comments said enforcement is understandable, given the city’s legal liability. However, many said the Sheriff’s Department should prioritize more serious issues in the city.
Adams-Hydar said the Sheriff’s Department successfully enforces a variety of laws.
“Just because I have one guy out here who’s issuing a citation for a helmet, doesn’t mean I’m letting violent crime go unattended,” Adams-Hydar said.
Adams-Hydar said citations are more likely for those who repeatedly fail to wear helmets, she added.
“Deputies have the ability, for an infraction, to determine whether a person breaking the rules gets cited or if they think education is more appropriate,” she said.
During the Feb. 18 council meeting, Sheriff’s Sgt. Richard George said education is ongoing and enforcement would come down the road.
At that time, Barker said he gets why the council is updating the helmet law, but added citations would put an end to the favorable international publicity the park has generated for Encinitas.
Councilman Mark Muir said at the meeting the city isn’t seeking to change the plaza’s vibe, only to ensure users’ safety.
“For me, it’s the safety we provide for the skaters themselves and ... protecting the citizens from liability,” Muir said.
Councilman Tony Kranz backed the updated municipal code, but expressed concern that the equipment could be too expensive for some. In response, city staff said a program to give out free helmets was in the works.
Adams-Hydar said that program is no longer planned, because a private company that was interested in funding the helmets backed out.