Rolling forward - Page 2

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

Mickey Ben-Horin in Potrero Del Sol

But things are not moving as swiftly for the city's other planned skate park, just beyond where Waller dead-ends at Stanyan in the Haight, which doesn't have the same guaranteed funding stream. While bids for a design have been submitted, the Recreation and Park Department needs to get approval for $1 million–$2 million in construction funds before moving forward. The city proposed the 120,000-square-foot cul-de-sac at the end of Waller and next to SFPD's Park Station after the original site near the Golden Gate Park horseshoe pits was found to be too small and lacking the necessary sight-lines for safety. But according to some residents groups, the parking lot is less safe for youths.

Citing police incident reports, Lena Emmery, president of the Cole Valley Improvement Association, told us the Waller park would be in an area with a high number of reported assaults and drug arrests and would add to noise pollution. "This location puts a skateboard park too close to a dense residential area, as well as some businesses that would be negatively impacted by the noise from the skaters," she wrote via e-mail.

While the lot is occasionally used for bicycle safety classes and overflow parking at Kezar Stadium, it sits empty most of the year, although a farmers market will hold its grand opening there April 28. Will Keating, a Waller Street resident and skateboarder who works on Haight Street, is excited about the proposed park. He disagrees with claims that the park would be a negative impact on his neighborhood. "I hear homeless mutants going crazy outside my window every night, I would much prefer skateboards," Keating said of the current noise pollution.

The Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, which is leading the charge for a sit-lie ordinance, conducted a survey on its Web site and found that many of its visitors feel the skatepark would increase noise and safety problems in the Haight. Visitors to the site also said the lot would be better used as a farmers market. Yet city officials say the two are not mutually exclusive, and early designs for the project are said to include a large public plaza adjacent to the park intended for community events.

"We realize this is going to be a multiuse space," said Nick Kinsey, property manager for the Recreation and Park Department. "Throughout San Francisco there are thousands and thousands of skateboarders but only two places where it is legal to skate." Kinsey called the park is "a done deal," citing a 2007 ordinance introduced by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi that mandates the department build a skatepark on the cul-de-sac.

Kent Uyehara, merchant chair for the HAIA and owner of FTC skateshop on Haight, said the community's fears about pedestrian safety are understandable, but that fears of increased violence and drug use are irrational. "If you can't have a skate park next to a police station, then basically you are saying you can't have it."

If the city enacts the sit-lie ordinance, which Uyehara supports, it would be easy to imagine that a skate park would be a magnet for homeless and others looking to escape police harassment. But Uyehara is adamant that the park would not become a haven for Haight Street refugees. "Skateboarders self-police their own areas," he said. "We're not trying to kick the homeless out," he added. "We're trying to make the neighborhood attractive for everyone, whether they're buying something or not."

Uyehara is no stranger to opposition. When his shop first moved to the Haight in 1994, he had to deal with threats from residents and a neighborhood organization, similar to the one he is now a part of, because of what skateboarding represented to them. Since then skateboarding and his business have prospered, and FTC now has four locations worldwide. "For a city that hosted the X-Games, it's pathetic how skateboarding has been treated."