Noli Stark and his mom sat in their car in the parking lot looking at San Clemente’s popular skate park, gates shut and sand covering the surface of his favorite playground.
“His last bit of freedom,” his mom, Jen, said, noting that Stark is diabetic and needs to stay moving. “It was all he had left. He was devastated.”
The move by the city to cover the concrete at the Ralph’s Skate Court with gritty, grainy sand has local skaters irked, wondering if such drastic measures were needed to keep people out of the park. Some wonder if the sandy surface may damage the skate park tucked in the hills of the seaside community.
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“I know it’s something a lot of people are concerned about,” said Stephanie Aguilar, president of the San Clemente Skatepark Coalition. “It’s definitely a question we have, and a lot of other people have: Is this going to cause permanent damage?”
San Clemente’s recreation manager, Samantha Wylie, said the skate park, like all other city parks, ball fields, tennis courts and the dog park, was closed on April 1 to discourage gathering during the coronavirus outbreak.
“We continued to hear frustrated comments from different groups,” Wylie said of the skate park.
Aguilar said the city didn’t make an attempt to contact the nonprofit, which could have used its social media channels to urge people to stay away.
“We have a pretty far reach with the skate community, we would have been happy to spread the message,” she said. “But there was no warning or anything.”
The city assessed what other towns with skate parks were doing to discourage use. Some cities installed fencing, but there were continued problems with people cutting the locks or hopping the fences. There were some examples of cities hiring security guards, but that option was costly.
So the city poured about 37 tons of sand – about 3 inches to 4 inches deep – to cover the surface.
Wylie said there was no city cost incurred. The sand came from the city yard, recycled from closed tot lots around town, and was put in by maintenance workers.
“There will be no cost to remove it,” she said.
Wylie said the city feels confident there will be no damage to the concrete surface, but if there is, the city will assess and fix the damages. Drains were covered before the sand was poured.
“We definitely did our due diligence,” Wylie said.
She said the city is continually assessing the closures, leaning on the county for guidance.
Aguilar wonders why tennis courts or other sporting areas that continue to see users aren’t being covered with sand. There may have been a few violators, she said, but there were not big crowds of people showing up to still skate.
“It feels like there’s always a double standard when it comes to skateboarding,” she said. “A lot of people have poured their hearts into making a better community for skateboarding. To see a picture of the skate park in this state, I think it really struck a cord with a lot of people.”
Nathan Scott was at the skate park on Wednesday sweeping out a section of sand to find a clear spot to skate, before a city worker showed up to kick him and two friends out.
He said the city could have come up with a better solution, but admits if a gate was put in, he would hop it.
“People are just moving to streets, so it’s just going to ruin the rest of the city,” he said. “You can’t fight that.”
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