Rolling forward

City plans to open two new skateparks, but Haight site sparks concern from neighbors

Mickey Ben-Horin in Potrero Del Sol

By Adrian Castañeda

San Francisco's Potrero del Sol Skatepark is often packed with skaterboarders, a testament to the sport's popularity and to the dearth of places in the city where it's legal to skate. But that will soon change with the city's commitment to build two new skateparks: one in SoMa and the other in the Haight.

Both have been tentatively approved by the Board of Supervisors. But before any concrete is poured, the skaters will have to overcome budget crises, angry homeowners, and their own bad reputations, particularly in the Haight, where the proposed park has gotten caught up in the furor over vagrants and the proposed sit-lie ordinance.

San Francisco has long been a skateboarding hub, yet there's always been friction with police, businesses, and everyday city life. Even though it's legal, there just aren't that many places to do it anymore, partially because the city and property owners routinely attach barriers to any surfaces that might be appealing to skaters.

Skateboarders, long accustomed to being ignored and disenfranchised, have responded in their usual DIY fashion, such as building a few obstacles in an empty parking lot under a freeway overpass. The city took notice of the demand and after three years of planning and meetings, the newest of San Francisco's skate parks has finally been allotted the necessary funds to begin construction around the end of summer.

The Central Freeway Skate Park will be located in what is now a parking lot at the intersection of Duboce and Stevenson streets in the north Mission District area. With $2 million collected through the Central Freeway Corridor Housing and Transportation Improvement Act of 1999, which provides for the sale and lease of parcels of city land that were under the now-demolished freeway, officials plan to develop the park to eventually include basketball courts and a dog run.

Rich Hillis of the Mayor's Office of Economic Development said the city is considering a variety of improvements, but confirmed that "we think the skate park is the priority." He attributes the park's relatively unopposed approval to the demands of the city's skaters and to the community as a whole. "They embraced the idea of a skatepark early on," Hillis said of the forward-thinking residents of the area. He jokingly adds that the park should be named "Hornbeck Park" after Bryan Hornbeck, director of the San Francisco Skateboard Association. Hornbeck and his associates started the SFSA to push the city to build new parks designed with skaters in mind.

"San Francisco has to have a world-class skatepark," Hornbeck said at one of the many skate events his group organizes. Hornbeck said the city has been receptive, working with skaters on the design of the park, but left SFSA to organize skaters and raise the funds. "It's bake sale; it's lemonade stand; it's the best we can do," Hornbeck said. "We're not trying to take anything, we're trying to make our own thing."

Plans for the park, drawn up by notable skatepark design firm New Line Skateparks, are currently under review by civil engineers. After the plans are finalized, the project will be bid out to find a contractor. Tentative 3-D renderings have been online for months, sparking heated debate on skateboarding Web sites.

When the acclaimed Potrero del Sol Skatepark opened in 2008, many skaters felt that while it was well-designed and enjoyable, it didn't have enough terrain that mimicked street riding. New Line has designed a number of skating plazas, most recently in Los Angeles. Its involvement gives many skaters hope that the new park will incorporate obstacles that represent the city's rich street skating history.