Budget pinch leaves skaters unsupervised

But, police station is just next door to park

Citywide budget cuts axed supervision at all San Diego skatepark starting on Jan. 1, meaning skaters can enjoy extended park hours and a free ride.

But the Carmel Valley Skatepark is unique in that it neighbors the Northwestern Division of the San Diego Police Department. While the sign out front reads “unsupervised” someone in blue is always watching.

On occasion, it’s possible to spy a few helmet-less heads cruising the park, but for the most part users are catching on, thanks to the police presence.

“A greater percentage is getting it and complying with the rules,” said Northwestern Captain Kathy Healey.

Healey said by no means do the cops intend to become babysitters - she said her officers’ first responsibility is to be out in the field, responding to calls and keeping watch.

“If we do see a violation, we’ll address it but we won’t sit out there monitoring the park,” Healey said, noting the station is outfitted with a monitor linked up to the park’s security cameras.

But at least one skater, who would only comment in anonymity, said the police are being too aggressive in enforcing the rules and have essentially taken over the job of supervisor the city can no longer afford.

The skater has seen as many as three police cars parked in the lot at one time.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” the skater said. “It’s great that it’s free and the hours are extended but the problem is the police are being jerks.”

He said it is frustrating to watch young skaters being rounded up, having their pictures taken, given tickets and treated with disrespect.

He said the treatment is prompting some skaters to never want to return or to go back out to the streets.

“It’s sad because the way I look at it is the skatepark is the safest place for skateboarders to be,” the skater said. “They’re being kicked out of a place that’s built for them to go back to the streets where we don’t want them to be.”

Thinking as a citizen and not a skater, he knows that rules are rules. But he likens the no safety gear offense to jaywalking or littering a cigarette butt and said he doesn’t see officers out writing tickets for those misdemeanors.

Safety first

Last Thursday, about 30 skaters were using the park in the dwindling hours of day when the overhead lights came on and cool blue accent lights shined on the stair elements.

All but five were wearing helmets and most skaters additionally donned kneepads and elbow pads. The helmet-less heads appeared to be skaters in the 16 to 18 age range, one appeared to be in his twenties.

Mom Wehtahnah Tucker, who brings her six-year-old son to the park nearly every day, said she is fine with the lack of supervision.

She said that most moms opt to stay to watch their children anyway. She parks in the front row and catches up on work on her laptop while her youngster skates about an hour or so.

Even without the rules, she always stresses the importance of safety gear to her son.

“I teach him to emulate the pro skaters like Tony Hawk or Bob Burnquist,” Tucker said. “You’ll never catch those guys without helmets.”

Tucker said she has run into no problems at this skatepark since it opened - not the cigarettes, drinking or graffiti that other unsupervised parks in the city now face.

“I think sometimes skateboarders get a bad rap,” she said.

The skatepark rules

  • Helmets and pads need to be worn at all times
  • Parents must accompany children under 14
  • Visitors and spectators must stay outside the fences
  • Skate at your own risk