Thursday, October 11, 2007

Skate Park Wheels Slowly Grind Forward

Back from a Monday knee injury that required 14 stitches, Justin Wright flies through the air. Wright, 13, said he was injured on a part of the Ojai Skate Park track in need of major repairs.

By Nao Braverman
After meeting diligently since May, and setting up the groundwork to begin fund raising, members of the Ojai Skate Park Task Force are ready to begin collecting some cash.
“Our current skate park is bad,” said Judy Gabriel, local parent and member of the task force. “My son came home today with a split elbow and there is a hole the kids are falling into.”
A crew of task force members came to the City Council meeting Tuesday night to ask for some guidance and a more solid affirmation of commitment from the city.
With the dilapidated skate park on its last legs, and a new permanent park in the mind of local skaters and on the city’s back burner for years, a task force comprised of youth skaters, veteran skaters, Rotarians, local parents, and council representative Steve Olsen, was formed.
Essentially commissioned by the city in February, the Task Force met weekly to design a future permanent park, determine what materials should be used, devise a plan to keep it safe and maintained, and come up with a cost estimate for construction.
Eight months later, with the long, hard, nonlucrative efforts of Task Force members, the planning has been completed, even with a newly formed, state recognized nonprofit organization called Sk8 Ojai, to collect funds.
But one thing missing was affirmation from the city, which Task Force members feel has left them hanging.
At a prior meeting city manager Jere Kersnar said that city staff had been holding off on giving any direction to Task Force members because they were waiting on a decision from the board of Ojai Unified School District. The school board, owners of the property slated for the new permanent park, were reluctant to commit to extending the current lease any further, he told council members. The school board property, currently has a 15-year lease with the existing temporary park, where Task Force members have planned for the new park to be built.
Kersnar said he was concerned about putting public funds into a project that had only a 15-year life span but did not give a definitive direction to Task Force members.
With a great deal of preliminary work behind them, Task Force members wanted some response from the city Tuesday evening. Without knowing whether the city agreed to build the new skate park on the school board property, whether they would have to find another location, whether their current lease with the school board property was secure, or whether the city could give them any financial backing, they could not begin to collect funds and progress to further planning, said Task Force member Sage Intner.
“How much time and effort are you willing to give?” she asked.
Olsen wanted to know if the current skate park’s lease with the school board was ironclad for the next 15 years.
City attorney Monte Widders said he was not sure, nor could Paulette Whiting, filling in for Kersnar, answer the question.
Mayor Carol Smith said she was willing to support the construction of a permanent park at the temporary park’s current location, even with only 15 sure years ahead.
“I’m willing to be optimistic and say 15 years is a lot,” she said. “I think their refusal to renew the lease is just prudent business practice. Who knows, they might decide to renew it 15 years down the line.”
Other council members agreed to support the Task Force and chided city staff for not following through on the skate park issue.
“I see this as our park and our responsibility,” said Councilwoman Sue Horgan. “I am not happy with staff’s work on this. It is their responsibility to follow the direction that I think the council has already given them, and I don’t think they’ve done that.”
Horgan made a motion for staff to return on the second meeting in November with a report on a lease agreement, some long-term financing options for the park, and to report on existing maintenance at the temporary skate park. The motion passed unanimously with some applause from Task Force members.

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