Additional security cameras, other measures may be taken

The Taft Skate Park was front-and-center Thursday evening at the monthly meeting of the West Side Recreation and Park District’s Board of Directors.
At the board’s request, District Administrator Don Koenig contacted the city of Taft about having representation at the meeting. The city responded and was well-represented at the meeting.
This time there was none of the frustration voiced by the rec board two months ago, when Bill McPherson said he'd like to see the park just fulled in.
The city and rec discussed ways to make it a safer place a a better place for kids.
Mayor Paul Linder, Councilmember Dave Noerr, City Manager Craig Jones and Police Chief Ed Whiting attended and participated in a discussion of the park – which has been a problem for both the city and district since it opened.
“We are all dealing with the same kids, the same concerns,” Koenig said.
At the board’s last meeting in June, Koenig said the Taft Police Department is concerned with the safety of Skate Park-users crossing 10th Street directly to and from the park instead of going to the 10th and Kern streets intersection to cross with the signal.
Chief Whiting asked if the district would open the gate on the west (district) side of the Skate Park to prevent users from going directly out onto 10th Street, Koenig said.
Koenig stated a concern that opening the west gate could lead to added foot, skateboard and bicycle traffic across the district’s grounds, with the possibility of graffiti and vandalism of the district’s structures.
“There are some problems we all wanted to address,” Whiting said at this month’s meeting. “What can we do to help you; what can you do to help us?
“We have responded to a few fights there. There have been speeders in the (Recreation District’s) parking lot. One child was hit by a car while crossing 10th Street after leaving the park.”
The chief suggested board members might want to express their concerns at the city’s Safety Committee meetings.
One key problem has been bicycle riders using the park that is designed for skateboarders. The bicycle riders and their bicycles pose a danger to the skateboarders. During the board’s June meeting, bicyclists could clearly be seen using the park.
“In collisions, the kid on the skateboard is hurt more often than the kid on the bicycle,” Whiting said.
“We’ve already addressed the issue with bikes in the park (with the city council passing an ordinance three weeks ago allowing the police department to cite bike riders using the park and confiscate their bicycles). The ordinance will go into effect now.”

Other problems have been littering, fights, vandalism, the older – non-teenage -- element attracted to the park, and the possibility of graffiti on buildings if park-users travel through the district property.

The police chief proposed putting cameras at various locations on Recreation District property that will monitor the area around the bathrooms, the benches and the parking lot.
After the meeting, Whiting and Recreation District staff toured the area around the Skate Park, bathrooms and parking lot seeking good locations to mount cameras.
“Speed bumps (in the parking lot), new security cameras … these things go a long way to improve the situation,” Whiting said. “A camera keeps them covered. It’s recording; we can see it, record it. They can be prosecuted.”
Board member Ron Orrin suggested that signs be posted saying that the areas are “under video surveillance.”
City manager Craig Jones said: “It’s not just a Recreation District problem. We can put our heads together to improve the situation. The city is here to work with your staff and the board. We have policing powers.
“We will have to deal with angry parents … but kids our less likely to offend when their bikes are taken away.”
Mayor Linder said, “If two or three bikes are confiscated, then the problem will end.”
At their June meeting, Recreation Board members had some negative things to say about the Skate Park, calling it “a real mess.”
One member even suggested filling it in with dirt. The park, which is on district property, was built by the city and donated to the district. It has proven to be a painful gift.
But the city’s willingness to work with the district to eliminate problems soothed board member feelings last week.
“I thank the city council for stepping up (and passing the bicycle ordinance),” said Clerk of the Board Bill McPherson. “It’s a worthwhile effort.
“(Having the skateboarders at the park) is better than having them downtown. (But) there’s only so much that we can do. We are tired of seeing our stuff torn-up.”
Orrin said, “I’m encouraged by what you have told us. They are only children. Our first concern needs to be their safety.”
He suggested contacting the local school districts to have the word about the bicycle ordinance and the dangers of bicyclists and skateboarders at the same facility stressed.
However Orrin expressed concerns about the adults on bicycles who might continue to use the Skate Park.
But confiscating their bikes should end that issue.