By Tasion Kwamilele
A conflict over a skate park in West Oakland has become the latest skirmish over what some see as the wave of gentrification that is sweeping the Bay Area.
The builders say the skate park is a productive use for property that was an eyesore and going to waste.
But a number of community members view these new arrivals like they are European settlers who claimed to have discovered America hundreds of years ago, who want to “improve” the land by pushing the residents out.
Compounding the disagreements are cultural and age differences that frequently come up when a new skate park is built in a neighborhood.
An issue is the “Lower Bobs Skatepark,” recently built on 8th and Pine streets in West Oakland’s Lower Bottoms neighborhood.
The builder is Gauntlet Skateparks, a non-profit organization that consists of “skate park builders from Oakland, Portland, Atlanta and Pittsburg working with local communities to get skate parks built anywhere, everywhere,” according to the group’s website.
However, Gauntlet did not work with the community or local officials before building the park and instead constructed it without permits and liability insurance to ensure the public’s safety.
Santiago Menendez, an organizer for Gauntlet, says the area was filled with garbage, and the group just wanted to do “something productive” for the community.
“We did build it. We’re not denying that, but we’d like to move forward and talk about what we’re going to do,” said Menendez.
Given the lack of effort to work with the city form the beginning, Councilmember Lynette McElhaney calls Gauntlet’s methodology “disheartening” and “disrespectful” to the residents.
“Doing it the way they have, has been a drain on the city’s scarce resources,” she said. “It’s discouraging to investors who actually go through the process.”
McElhaney cited another nearby skate park, Town Park, as an example of a project that went through the process in the right way.
Built in West Oakland at the historic Defremery Park by Keith “K-Dub” Williams, Town Park has been in operation since 2008. While the project may have taken longer to get up and running, Williams followed the necessary steps, according to McElhaney
Williams is now in the process of getting permits to rebuild the wooden skate park with concrete, which he says Oakland needs more of. He says he understands the Do It Yourself (DIY) culture of skateboarding and resourcefulness of skaters, but skate boarders should be caring enough to engage the community from the onset.
“Aesthetically it’s a beautiful site, but in terms of not engaging the community, [it] may have been a bit naïve,” said Williams. “I’m about skateboarding and skateboard culture, but I’m about community first.”
“There’s a need for this type of recreation,” he said. “[But] if I had did that in Piedmont, I’d be in jail.”
He said some skaters have told him they were not welcomed when visiting the new skate park because they did not help build it or did not bring beer.
Williams, however, is not worried about these glitches. Instead, he says he is committed to his primary focus, creating events for youth to engage in.
In the meantime, Lower Bobs Skatepark is closed until an agreement is reached between the group and city officials
“We didn’t build it with permits, but we want to go on from here out the right way,” said Menendez. “We don’t want to lose it.”
McElhaney says she supports the group going through the process. She hopes that if the park is not approved, the group will responsibly remove it just like they built it and not impose that burden on taxpayers.