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Grabbing skateboards won't improve conduct
A Times Editorial
Published November 14, 2007
Confiscating skateboards isn't the way to welcome youngsters to downtown Zephyrhills. ¶ A few directional signs sending the kids to the city's skate park at Krusen Field would be appropriate. That is, if the teens read the signs and don't vandalize them.
That is the dilemma in Zephyrhills. Youths are congregating at the Times Square area on Fifth Avenue to skateboard, drawing the ire of some business owners and leaving some wreckage in their wake. Someone damaged three city-owned newspaper racks. Twice. Ceramic plaques are cracked, landscaping is trampled and metal picnic tables are bent in the middle.
It is a familiar problem. The inability of skaters to self-police boorish behavior led Dade City to close its temporary skate park adjacent to City Hall in 2005. The ill manners and foul language stimulated commission reluctance to consider a permanent alternative despite a community push to do so. Now, some in Zephyrhills want to deal with similar issues by having police confiscate skateboards.
The ruckus is disconcerting, considering Zephyrhills is home to a skate park built jointly with Pasco County. The city needs to make the park a destination, rather than a subject of indifference.
City officials are kicking around some user-friendly ideas to entice skaters back to the park. Teens, parents and city representatives are scheduled to meet Monday to devise a strategy. The dialogue is welcome, and any recommendations should be implemented before resorting to heavy-handed police enforcement.
Notably, skaters complain about the lack of shade at the park and two wheelchair users want access. Putting a shade cover over the bleachers will be easier to accomplish than the real drawback: city rules requiring skateboarder to wear helmets.
It is an obligation the teens are not going to be able to circumvent despite pleas that private-sector skate parks don't carry the same requirement. Likewise, the city will be wise to discontinue a past tactic of closing the park when skaters show up without helmets.
City Manager Steve Spina may resurrect an idea pushed to the back burner previously: hiring a part-time attendant to enforce the helmet rule while also putting on programs and offering skateboarding lessons to participants.
It is a minimal expense that would promote the park as the place to skate in east Pasco. There is a big audience to attract. The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, which tracks sports participation, estimated nearly 11.4-million people skateboard nationally and more than 80 percent of the skateboarders are younger than 18, which means the core group of participants turns over continuously.
As the Zephyrhills population grows younger, the city can expect juvenile-related issues to become more common. Encouraging children to use the skate park should help free up officers for problems more pressing than chasing skateboard scofflaws around downtown.