Finding Balance with Ordinances

In the United States, less than half of all skateboarders (49%) live less than five miles from their nearest skatepark. As a result, two-thirds (69%) of them  skate wherever they can. This includes local parking lots, loading docks, garages, plazas, and building entrances. As their skills improve and tastes change, they continually seek new places to skate. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of all skaters skate a mix of regular and new spots, while about a third (32%) usually skate at the same places again and again.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of skateboarders in the United States engage in this recreational activity under the constraints of a local no-skateboarding ordinance or are unaware if there is a local ordinance prohibiting skateboarding. They find out eventually.

Skateboarding ordinances are created by City Councils in response to public pressure to curb skateboarding activity. The local ordinance has boundaries that isolate the areas that skateboarders present the most nuisance and/or property damage. The exact language for each ordinance vary from community to community. In Vista, California, the ordinance prohibits skateboarding anywhere a sign prohibits the activity. Public records show that about 3 skateboarding citations were issued a week and that most of the individuals cited were between 12 and 24-years-old. Skaters under 18 had their skateboards confiscated by police 92% of the time.

Local merchants support the ordinance because they claim that risk of collisions will drive away business. However, there is no evidence that the risk to pedestrians is real, nor that skateboarding downtown has driven away traffic. The ordinance is an indicator of political influence and access.

Because the specific nature of skateboarding ordinances vary from community to community, most skateboarders simply don’t know where skateboarding is allowed and where it’s not. To complicate matters, some ordinances permit skateboarding during particular times, or only if the skater follows particular rules, (such as traffic laws).

Some of these laws are meant to protect landowners from “premises liability.” They are concerned that a skateboarder that is injured on their property may sue them. Many states consider skateboarding a “hazardous recreational activity” to provide a degree of protection to landowners, other states simply include skateboarding within their general laws meant to shield landowners from liability lawsuits.

Skateboarding tickets are generally about $60 but can be much higher. In Oceanside, skateboarding down the sidewalk can earn you a $281 ticket that you will be required to pay regardless if you contest it. The local court requires payment of the ticket before your court hearing is set, so you must produce the fine before you know if the fine will be reduced as a result of a hearing. This means that you may pay the fine and be done with it, or pay the fine then appear in front of a judge at a future date to try to get some of your money back. When you consider that most of the individuals are between 12 and 24-years-old, you can imagine what kind of financial impact this will have on the individual and their family. Oceanside and Vista are in the same district, so we can presume that the tickets are similar. In Vista, therefore, skateboarding tickets represent $44,960 in revenue to the city annually.

This is why we advocate.