TEXT: STUART GOMEZ
Sheldon Skatepark was opened on June 5, 2014, in Sun Valley, California. It was the largest of its kind in the Southeast Valley. Two years later, almost to the date, the park was shut down by the city.
There was no warning. Local skaters showed up one morning and their park was locked up. Shortly afterwards, skaters were invited to participate in a neighborhood council meeting. The community was already on the defensive—imagine rolling up to your home away from home and it’s on lockdown. So the environment was not exactly conducive to communication.
“The meeting went to shit,” says Sheldon local Bryan Santamaria. Bryan has taken the lead on Project S, a five-person committee that was started, along with Vinnie Banh, in response to what they saw as a lack of mobilization on the part of the local skaters.
Bryan has a background in community youth program development, something that Sun Valley is sorely lacking at this point. If you’ve spent any weekends at Hollenbeck Plaza in Boyle Heights over the past few years, you’re likely to recognize him (his local skate clinic was a big hit). Currently a full-time student majoring in child development, he’s looking forward to creating a skate academy in Los Angeles that capitalizes on his experience with providing youth services.
When the council meeting reached a boiling point, both sides—the board members and the skateboard members—were yelling at each other. There was no constructive dialogue. It was clear to the skaters that they were all being lumped in together with a few bad seeds who ruined the environment at the skatepark in the first place. Those bad seeds were presumably nowhere near anything resembling a council meeting that evening.
“Council people saw that we weren’t organized,” Bryan says.
Sheldon’s abrupt closure was a result of recurring vandalism, unsanctioned events, and general unsavory nonskate conduct. The 6th District’s Recreation and Parks department noted this deterioration and the city naturally blamed the skaters, without initiating any meaningful communication with the community.
Project S’s goal is to get some sort of dialogue going with the city and hopefully get Sheldon reopened. There has been progress on this front, but the park is currently in a state of limbo (the park is cleaned up and ready for business, but the gates are still locked). Project S is currently in negotiations with the city for a solution that will satisfy everyone. So far, one of the most positive steps for Project S has been a list of twelve rules to be followed by everyone who goes to Sheldon. Their Codes of Conduct clearly outline what’s expected from everyone visiting the park:
- Respect all park attendees
- No drugs or alcohol
- No weapons allowed
- No vandalizing skatepark
- The use of violence is not allowed
- No sitting on skate ledges or rails
- Bikers must ride with pegs at all times
- No animals/pets in skate area
- Unsanctioned events will not be allowed
10. Food/Drinks are not allowed in skate area (water is OK)
11. No littering. Keep Sheldon clean (pick up after yourself)
12. Failure to follow rules will result in temporary loss of facility privileges
Pretty straightforward, right? This could almost double as a common sense guide for anything (just substitute “skate area” for “living room” and you could post this in any dorm room). The #Sheldon12 campaign went live this summer and caught on like wildfire, with Project S being overwhelmed by volunteers looking to help clean and looking for any way to be involved.
“A lot of people are interested in doing community work to get the park reopened,” Bryan says. “The end goal is to get the park reopened,” but for it be with “a different culture than before.”
This acknowledgment that things did get out of hand at Sheldon is important to note. It’s easy to fall into victim mode and make the city out to be the bad guy in these situations. The reality is that everyone shares some of the blame; the true test is in how the community rebounds.
“Skaters tend to overlook rules and codes of conduct,” Bryan says. “Skating gives you the freedom to not give a shit. But it’s important to respect where you skate and be proactive.”
When the park does reopen, it will take a village to skate-police the area. Right now, there is hope that the community can band together and prove to the city that the community deserves Sheldon. Just the fact Project S has been able to mobilize the whole community is a big feather in Bryan’s cap.
Getting anything done at a grassroots level requires much more effort; lubricating the wheels of bureaucracy takes a lot of a group if they’re not organized. But it can be done.
What are Project S’s tips for skaters who may be going through a similar ordeal? “Organize and get all the facts of the situation at your park,” Bryan says, emphasizing that it’s a little too easy to fly off the handle. Take a deep breath and figure out what’s really going on.
Bryan continues, “And come up with a comprehensive plan. Work with everybody from police, business owners, Parks department, and even neighbors adjacent to the park.”
With the twelve codes of conduct and their willingness to work the city to accomplish their goals, Project S has become a great blueprint for how a community should interact. There’s still a lot of work to do, but the wheels are in motion. Let’s just hope that the city doesn’t decide to play by its own rules.