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West Oakland skatepark spared destruction


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Sounds like a lot of work went into making this park. Pretty cool it will likely stay.




Caltrans agreed Friday to spare an illegal skate park under an Oakland freeway and work with skaters, community members and city officials to have another agency or group oversee the concrete structure.


Meanwhile, the skaters and other volunteers who built the park last year on state Department of Transportation property under Interstate 580 agreed to refrain from skating at Bordertown Skate Park or expanding it for a month until a long-term plan is implemented.


On Thursday, Caltrans had padlocked the park until issues of liability and oversight of the park could be resolved.


"Frankly, this is about the best outcome I can imagine," said Brian Mitchell, a neighbor who helped co-found and build the park in June 2004. "It couldn't have gone any better. I think we rallied a lot of political support for something that is really good for people in Oakland."


The compromise was reached after a meeting among Caltrans officials, skaters, volunteers and several political leaders, including Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, state Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, D- Alameda, and representatives of other local leaders.


"I'm really happy we could save this park," De La Fuente said. "These young people did something on their own that is positive and good for people here. We really need to help them any way we can."


De La Fuente, who called the meeting at City Hall, praised Caltrans for agreeing to save the skate park while a long-term compromise is crafted.


Skaters and an aide to De La Fuente said after the meeting that park supporters hoped the state would lease the property to a nonprofit group or to the city, which would sublease it to a nonprofit.


Caltrans administrator Dana Cowell said the agency's main concern about the park is potential liability if a skater were injured, as well as possible damage to the pillars that support the elevated freeway. But he said Caltrans will allow the park to stay and help local officials find another agency or group to operate it.


Mitchell and the other volunteers began cleaning up the area near 34th and Louise streets and building the park in June 2004. Caltrans noticed the structure last week, when workers went there to warn people in homeless encampments to move.


Caltrans plans to use several hundred acres under the freeway to store heavy equipment and construction material while building a new on-ramp near MacArthur Boulevard and San Pablo Avenue.


After Caltrans posted flyers warning that the skate park -- which has several halfpipe ramps -- would be demolished next week, skaters decided to go public with their effort.


"This park is totally a labor of love for us," said Josh Matlock. "It's for everyone to use and enjoy. We've turned a lot of kids in West Oakland on to skating. It really gives them a safe place."


After accounts of the park appeared in The Chronicle and other media, politicians went to bat for Bordertown, saying that a historically high-crime area like West Oakland desperately needs a new park -- and the dose of community initiative that built the illegal park.


"Let me be clear, my goal is to keep this open," said Chan, who attended Friday's meeting with an aide to state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D- Oakland. "I will do everything I can, sponsor legislation (if necessary), to keep it open."


U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who sent an assistant to Friday's meeting, has offered to find federal funds to preserve the park. Oakland police also showed their support.


"We view this as a positive step for the community," Deputy Chief Pete Dunbar said. "Young people in West Oakland really don't have enough activities. This is a grassroots thing that is really improving a blighted area."


City officials and park volunteers are looking at other renegade skate parks that have become legitimized. The Washington Street Skatepark in San Diego, the Channel Street Skatepark in the San Pedro section of Los Angeles and Burnside Bridge Park in Portland, Ore., were built illegally but became legal after local political campaigns.

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