Mountain View Voice

News - March 11, 2011

Skaters say skate park overhaul is long overdue

by Daniel DeBolt

As usual, the Rengstorff skate park was a busy place on Friday afternoon, with the sound of a dozen skateboards bouncing off the asphalt, ramps and rails. But underneath the surface is a common refrain. Politely put, the skate park could be better, much better.

"People come here because it's the only thing we have to skate," said Roland Tice, a Mountain View High School student who, with his friend Denny Ianni, has been talking to city officials about the skate park since January.

It's not the relatively small size of the park that does it in, Tice said. "I've been to skate parks that are smaller than this and they are, like, 100 times better."

Skateboarders pointed to several poorly chosen features in the skate park. The layout makes it difficult to carry enough speed to allow "flow" from one feature to another. The metal ramps get hot enough to burn skin on warm summer days, while the asphalt is slippery and unpredictable enough to cause falls, leaving black marks on skin and clothes.

In repose to their complaints, city staff has proposed $23,500 for some improvements to the skate park, while an entirely new skate park may be considered during the ongoing Rengstorff Park Master Plan process — if skateboarders can make their voices heard.

A dozen skaters at the park on Friday agreed that Rengstorff pales in comparison to skate parks in Sunnyvale, San Jose and Palo Alto. But the pool-like concrete sculptures in those cities, costing as much as $1 million each, are not the sort of thing a city council would approve in a recession. A new trend in skate park design, which Tice and other skaters want to see, may be much more attractive to city officials in terms of costs and aesthetics. It doesn't tie up park land with expensive concrete swimming pool-like bowls and ramps. The City Council opposed that sort of skate park in 2000 when $85,000 was approved for the current park.

"A bunch of bowls and ramps, you don't really need that from a street skater's perspective," Tice said. "What you really want is a replicated urban environment. Stair sets, gaps and ledges — that's all we've really asked for."

Tice pointed to a company called California Skateparks as the ideal builder of such a skate park. Swimming pool-style skate parks are "a trend that is dying slowly but surely," said Brian Pino, a designer for the Southern California company. Many of the "skate plazas" pictured on the company's website are artistically designed and almost indistinguishable from a nice courtyard. These "replicated urban environments" are very popular with city officials in Los Angeles, which is building three to four of such parks a year at half the cost of a swimming pool style park, Pino said. Many fit seamlessly into larger parks, the ledges doubling as park benches and ramps doubling as architectural focal points.

At $25 a square foot, Mountain View could build a 10,000 square foot skate park along those lines for as little as $250,000, Pino said.

Skateboarders have sought out those "urban" features on Castro Street and even other parts of Rengstorff Park. At a recent meeting between city staff and skateboarders, local teen Maurice Ontaveros mentioned that skaters are known to enjoy a staircase near the Rengstorff Park tennis courts — until they are thrown off. And those who seek the ledges and stairs downtown can face bigger problems: "You have to worry about cops and security and tickets and having it on you record," Tice said.

On Friday, the most popular feature at the Rengstorff skate park was the one that most looked like an urban feature. It is a simple box-like structure less than two feet high with what looks like a low staircase rail sticking up from the middle and extending downward. While the ramps in the park went largely unused (the mini half pipe was popular with some), there was a long line of skaters waiting for their turn to either jump over the rail or slide down it.

In response to the skateboarders' complaints, the city has come up with a $23,500 proposal to add a longer 12-foot-wide, 4-foot-tall half-pipe ($9,000), a pair of 6-foot-long "skate benches" ($1,200) that skaters could sit on or skate on, and a 12-foot-long "grind box" ($2,000) that is a foot-and-a-half high and 1-foot-wide. A kinked rail and a curved rail in the corner of the park that skaters said were never used would be removed. And a 4-foot wide quarter pipe would be relocated to improve traffic flow.

Despite the idea's popularity, it is not part of the plan to include a set of stairs in the skate park. City staff considered switching from asphalt to a concrete surface but found that moving the ramps could damage them and found a $70,000 estimate to install the concrete to be cost prohibitive.

The proposal is the result of two city-sponsored meetings in which 25 skateboarders showed up to discuss improvements to the skate park. The proposals were supported by the teens on the Youth Advisory Committee on March 7. The City Council's Youth Services Committee will review the proposal soon to see if it is possible to fold it into the city's 2011-12 budget, Maurantonio said.

Skateboarders have also asked for lights to allow nighttime skating, which they say exists in a Sunnyvale skate park. But because of the potential impacts on the neighborhood, that option would require some study during the Rengstorff Master Plan process, Maurantonio said.

If there is wide support for it, a whole new skate park could be part of a major revamp of Rengstorff Park. The city happens to be in the middle of a Rengstorff Park Master Plan process and the next opportunity to weigh in on the long-term future of the park will be a meeting on April 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Senior Center, 266 Escuela Ave.

Whether the city spends $23,500 or $1 million on the skate park, "Whatever they can put in will be a lot better than what we have now," Ontaveros said.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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