When Ricardo Victoria went to Lodi’s skate park recently, he was shocked to find it closed.
The 19-year-old spends several afternoons a week skating at the park on Ham Lane.
“It’s more than just a hobby; it’s something that I’ve enjoyed doing. It’s a passion,” he said.
Victoria spoke Tuesday night at the Lodi Recreation Commission meeting in support of reopening Kofu Park Skate Park.
The gates have been locked since Aug. 30, when city staff closed the park because of excessive litter that prevented mowing. Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Interim Director Jeff Hood said city staff also started discussing issues with drug and alcohol abuse at the park.
“The trash was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.
Hood decided to keep the park closed until the commission could come up with a solution to the problems. The meeting on Tuesday was discussion only, so the park will remain closed until the commission takes action at a future meeting.
About 20 teenagers attended in support of the skate park, taking off their hats as they entered Carnegie Forum.
Several of the adults in the crowd offered to pick up trash or encourage the kids to pick it up before the mowing days.
Yearly, the city was spending about $4,000 in staff time to pick up the litter, Hood said.
Lodi resident Gail Irons has a great-nephew who uses the park, and she volunteered to go pick up trash every time the city mows the property.
Irons said she is frustrated that people complain about kids being obese and sitting at home all day, but then an outdoor activity geared toward teens is shut down.
“You see kids not using their cellphones, not playing on the computer, and they are out there talking to each other. When you look at them they are all different nationalities. That’s not something that would be right to destroy,” she said.
For parent Leon Tryon, the skate park has provided an opportunity for his 12-year-old son, Bryce, to star in TV commercials and shows. His son’s goal is to go to the X-Games, a national competition for BMX riders.
Compared with other parks the family goes to, Lodi’s has the least amount of graffiti, Tryon said.
“I just don’t want to see the park go away. It’s done a lot of great things. We’ve met a lot of great people. Lodi has a beautiful skate park,” he said.
His wife, Deanna, said they have gone to the park a couple of times and asked kids to pick up trash, and she would be willing to do that again. She also suggested the city hold skateboarding or BMX competitions to help the park generate revenue.
Aside from the litter, everyone agreed the more difficult problem to address is a group of about 15 to 20 teens and young adults who drink, smoke and cause disturbances in the park.
Victoria said the majority of people at the skate park stay away from drugs and alcohol.
“The park is a meeting ground for everybody, and they build relationships they can learn from for the rest of their lives. ... (The drugs and alcohol) should be cleared out, but not at the expense of the skate park being shut down,” Victoria said.
One-Eighty Teen Center Director Jake McGregor said the trash is not the real issue, because his staff or volunteers would be willing to come pick up the garbage.
He said that with a public skate park, problems are going to arise, so the real issue is supervision. He said the teen center would be willing to work with the city on a partnership to possibly hire an intern or staff member to be at the park.
One option could be having a staff member operating a basic store at the park that sells skating supplies, to have a presence out there while also raising money for the city.
Eddie Long, with the Boosters of Boys and Girls Sports, said his organization would also be willing to discuss ways to help at the park.
If the city does decide to find a way to supervise the park, Hood said all the kids will be forced to wear a helmet and pads before they are allowed into the park, in accordance with state law.
At the meeting, the commission also discussed the need to put about $5,000 of work into the park in the near future to fix some of the wear and tear from use.
Commission chair Barbara Wardrobe-Fox said she has always been concerned about the park.
If the city cannot come up with a solution, Wardrobe-Fox said she would rather use the money for an event or deferred maintenance at a facility where the users are respecting the equipment.
“You need to treat public property as if it is your own property. You need to treat it with respect,” she said to the skate park users in the crowd.
Hood pointed out that the skate park doesn’t make any money, and that there are revenue-generating facilities in need of maintenance.
Commissioner Jeff Palmquist said he wanted to make sure all the skate park users were not being held accountable for the actions of a few. He said the city has other programs it subsidizes, like the aquatics program, that run at a deficit.
“There is a classism and ageism issue here. I don’t know that all teenagers have the ability to police what the worst of them will do,” he said. “I’d rather look to volunteers so that everyone can continue to participate in this activity.”
Commissioner David Akin said he supports looking at the idea of tournaments, and said the city should schedule a community meeting at the park to discuss the issues and find out who is interested in helping.
“To me, it appears that we should have been more aggressive in supporting the skate park through the community,” Akin said. “There were a lot of possibilities that we haven’t ignored, but that we didn’t know were out there, that can solve this problem.”
Parks Superintendent Steve Dutra said he is available to speak with residents who have suggestions on how to improve the skate park. Contact him at 209-333-6800, ext. 2454 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.