When a group of about to 30 Isla Vista residents and skateboard enthusiasts, got together last week to talk about a proposed skate park at Estero Park, there was one thing they all agreed upon; kids – and adults for that matter – need a place to skateboard, other than the parking lots behind businesses on Pardall Road. What they didn’t all agree upon, however, was where a skate park should go.
The meeting started with a presentation by Carol Belser, general manager of the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District (IVRPD), about proposed plans for Estero Park, which include a new and improved basketball court, a $1 million dollar soccer field, a 7,000-square foot community center, and a skate park that would cost between $595,000 and $800,000. The proposed 17,000-square foot skate facility, which would be paid for through fundraising, is part of the Estero Park Master Plan.
Belser ended her presentation with some of the questions left to be addressed, such as how a skateboard park would be managed (if at all), whether it would be fenced, and whether it would allow BMX bikes. Even though she mentioned these details, she emphasized the importance of picking the right location. “That is the biggest hurdle,” she said.
As resident after resident stood up to speak against the notion of putting the skate facility at Estero Park, the conversation quickly turned from a discussion of the skate park plan – an ambitious one with details that would have skaters salivating to try out the bowls and rails – to the issue Belser had said was the most important: location.
Objectors gave several reasons for their objection to Estero Park, including the popularity of the park in its current condition, the possibility of vandalism, and noise issues.
Becka Fortune – who lives in the Silverwood Apartments, behind Estero Park – said the park is a popular one used for multiple purposes, including volleyball, soccer, and dog walking. One of her main concerns was vandalism. “The concern is simply the element the skateboard park will bring,” she said.
Elizabeth Baldwin, who lives near Estero Park, mentioned nighttime noise. “My concern is what are you going to do about people at night?”
Mike Taylor, who designed the plans for the skate facility, said these complaints were nothing new. “Not in my backyard people show up every time”. He said that opinions about skateboard parks change once they are in place. “Most of the NIMBYs flip-flop and see it as an asset,” he added. He said it had taken eight years to get the I.V. skate park to this stage in the process. “We need to get this done. [Skateboarders] need it now.”
Several skateboarders, including young children, spoke about the importance of having a park, wherever it was located. Mike Pizano, an Ellwood resident, said that Isla Vista area kids are looking for a place to get together and skateboard. “That’s what the kids are looking for, and that’s what they need.” Another skateboarder said a skate park would be a beacon of hope for youth, would provide an opportunity for older skaters to mentor younger ones, and would create some “awesome vibes.”
But this wasn’t a sentiment only the skaters espoused, even the people against the Estero Park location, were in favor of a skate park. Elizabeth, a resident who had mentioned noise as a concern, held up a picture from the front page of the Los Angeles Times with Afghan girls skating in Skateistan, a skate park in Kabul. She said, “Skaters are good kids. They need a park.”
So, if not Estero Park, then where? The two parks that Diane Conn, IVRPD board chairwoman, mentioned as possibilities were Perfect Park and People’s Park, both in downtown I.V. and both owned by the IVRPD. If you’re familiar with downtown I.V., Perfect is the park where St. Athanasius Orthodox Church is located, across from the Bagel Cafe. People’s Park is adjacent.
Residents said a downtown location would have some great benefits, such as a close proximity to food, multiple bathrooms, a medical clinic, and the I.V. Foot Patrol. It would also be farther away from residences.
Conn said she was concerned about time delays caused by a change of venue. If the project could move forward in the same time frame, she said, she was leaning toward downtown. However, she said she would “not commit to a downtown site if it would set us back.”
IVRPD boardmember Bruce Murdock said a delay of even a year would be worth it to find the right location. He said, “Let’s spend some time to find the best place.” He also said that he thought merchants would be in favor of a downtown location. “If I were a merchant, I’d say, bring it on.”
The board voted unanimously, 4-0, to direct the IVRPD to find out how I.V. merchants would feel about a downtown site and how this would change the time frame for development.
Anna Rodriguez, a UCSB graduate and mother, who had spoken in favor of a downtown site, rather than changing a park she loves, thought that a delay wouldn’t be such a bad thing, if the right location was found. “I think it’s important to look at the positives of moving it closer to downtown: If it’s a beacon for skaters to come, then it’s worth it.”