Rolling forward - Page 3

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

Mickey Ben-Horin in Potrero Del Sol

Uyehara says the Waller park, along with the Central Freeway and Potrero del Sol parks, are part of a plan developed by the San Francisco Skate Task Force, created in 2002 by then-Sup. Gavin Newsom to address the growing friction between the city and its skateboard population. The task force envisioned "a series of five parks located in a star pattern, and one in the middle of the city, [that] would make it possible for users to easily get to a park within at least two miles of their home."

All the meetings and fundraising will be in vain if the park is poorly designed and built, said Jake Phelps, editor-in-chief of Thrasher Magazine. He says locals should design the park "so we have no one to blame but ourselves," and avoid another flawed park like Crocker Amazon in Sunnydale where, he says, "the fence costs more than the skatepark." Unimpressed with preliminary designs for the park on Duboce, the notoriously blunt Phelps says, "They're going to come to our town, drop a turd, and leave."

The veteran skater is wary of "landscape designers" with grandiose ideas. "There are people who get too involved. They don't skate. Who are they to tell anybody what it is?" Newer skateparks are too crowded with obstacles trying to please all different kinds of skaters, he said. Instead, he urges a simple design similar to the streets of downtown. "The whole idea of skating is being utilitarian with your environment." Regardless of the design, he believes it won't have a dramatic effect on the Haight community: "Homeless people are gonna sleep there," he said. "People are gonna tag on it and think it's theirs."

"The whole city's a park, but people need somewhere to go when they get kicked out of everywhere," says pro skater Tony Trujillo, who is able to skate to the Potrero park from his house and thinks others should have the same proximity to hassle-free skating. Julien Stranger, another local pro, feels a park in the Haight would benefit youth in the area by giving them a healthy, creative outlet, something the Haight symbolizes to many. "I don't think that the neighborhood should be complaining about the energy a skate park will bring," he said. "Skate parks are pretty positive."

Earlier this month, an informational meeting hosted by the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, Kinsey, Hornbeck, and other residents raised concerns that noise pollution and property damage would increase because of the skate park. "There's been no public outreach," said Martha Hoffman, who lives across from where the park is slated to be built. "If we'd known about it sooner, we would have opposed earlier."

Thuy Nguyen of the SF Skate Club, an after-school program that promotes skateboarding as a safe and positive activity, urged residents to look beyond their property values and consider the benefits for the city's youth. "It's important for kids who feel that traditional sports aren't for them." Her partner, Shawn Connolly, added that skateboarding has grown in popularity with children. "It's right after baseball," he said.

"If the city doesn't have a skatepark, the city is the skatepark," Hornbeck said of the Waller Street lot where he often hosts skate events with donated ramps to ease the community into the idea of skateboarders using the area. But until the city budget can provide for skateboarders, the debate over the park will rage — and the underused parking lot at the end of Waller will remain just that.