After weeks of mounting community divide over a proposed skatepark at Rancho Palos Verdes city hall, officials aren’t taking the idea off the table, but it’s still far from getting the green light.
Mayor Jim Knight was the only “no” vote Tuesday against including the privately funded, 15,000-square-foot “multi-use skateable plaza” as a potential project for the civic center in the newly updated Parks Master Plan — a guiding document for the city’s 17 parks and community centers.
The proposal from Skatepark PV, a nonprofit that has spent a half-decade trying to find a place on the Hill for a skate facility, will still need to go before the new city council for approval.
Two incumbents running for re-election next month, Knight and Susan Brooks, are opposed to the skate plaza’s location, and two other candidates, incumbent Jerry Duhovic and real estate attorney Greg Royston, have backed the plan, though Duhovic noted Tuesday he was “not married” to the site.
Former Mayor Ken Dyda said at a candidate debate last week that he thinks the idea is “premature” for the site, considering Rancho Palos Verdes has yet to build a proper civic center and is still housing city hall in concrete barracks built in the 1950s when the area was a Nike missile base.
The council already approved the skate park’s inclusion for Upper Point Vicente in the Parks Master Plan in June — Tuesday’s vote was to adopt the plan as a whole — but the idea has become a hot topic in the community in recent weeks, sparking petitions both for and against it.
Supporters say youths on the Hill desperately need a skate facility of their own and that the plaza would double as a stage for community events, but critics argue it could add to the swell of visitors drawn to Rancho Palos Verdes’ recreational hot spots by exposure on social media.
Skatepark opponent Elisabeth Ryan told the council she has collected 865 signatures on a written petition since first learning of the plan herself in September.
“For 30 years, if you go back and look at the Coastal Plan, people have wanted pools, gyms, rec. centers, libraries, more sheriffs — what do we get? Nothing,” she said, arguing that the current skate plaza proposal would not serve all residents. “You could make it so beautiful, something for the whole community.”
Ryan said many residents who signed her petition were not aware of plans for a skate park. She said she would not be opposed to the city building a few small, concrete bowls in another park instead.
The city conducted months of public outreach soliciting input for the Parks Master Plan update, but the skatepark was not mentioned specifically in workshop notices since it is just one of numerous components proposed for the civic center, including a swimming pool and children’s playground.
Resident Jarel Wheaton said the skate plaza would serve only a small segment of the community.
“The senior population is a much larger population that is under served,” Wheaton said.
Others said they want a pool first — a petition for that gained 222 signatures — and raised concerns about public safety, potential liability issues and noise.
“Hawthorne Boulevard is a major thoroughfare,” said Ana Haase-Elliott, who started the pool petition. “When I was growing up, one of my classmates was struck and killed by a bus just down the hill from Robert E. Ryan Park.”
Skatepark PV Vice President Jim Parker suggested giving Peninsula residents preferential access to the skate plaza by having them show IDs.
“By not allowing us to build the self-funded skateable plaza, you’re denying parents the ability to give their children something that they need, want, and is very good for them,” Parker said. “We’re only asking for 15,000 square feet, we’re not against swimming pools. In fact, we like swimming pools and we can help them fund it.”
Skatepark PV Secretary Suzy Seamans, a former mayor of Rolling Hills Estates, told the council that Ryan’s petition against the skate plaza “is incorrect and misleading in several particulars.”
“First, it refers to the skatepark as privately-owned. As you know, it will be owned by the city, but the funds will be raised privately,” she said, adding that the organization does not intend for the skatepark to be a regional draw.
“It is meant for local youth and we are happy to do a small park if we must,” Seamans added.
She said comparing numbers of signatures — an online petition in favor of the skatepark has 72 signatures and one against it has 138 — is unfair, noting the council already approved it for the Parks Master Plan.
“The people that were pro-skatepark had nothing to petition for,” Seamans said. “The petitioners were against something.”
While the group believes the civic center is a “good place” for the skatepark, Seamans said, “it is not our intention to build a skatepark where it is not wanted and if it is not wanted here, we will continue our search for a suitable place on the Peninsula.”
Alex Gray, a professional surfer and skate plaza supporter, said many of the concerns raised could be said of other projects in the city.
“For me, the answer has been simple and that is we need to put politics aside and simply do what’s right for the kids,” he said.
Duhovic stressed that including the proposal in the Parks Master Plan is preliminary and conceptual only, and city staff said its location would not be restricted by the plan.
“It’s a possible option and would still need to go through all the vetting process that any facility would,” City Manager Doug Willmore said.
Brooks, who has gone back and forth on the issue, failed to get enough votes for a motion to adopt the Master Plan without the skatepark at city hall, but later voted to include it since it is only an option. Knight said he could not support it as a recommended component for city hall because he is worried about kids potentially skating down steep Hawthorne Boulevard.
“My concern all along has been I want to do what the residents want,” Brooks said.