Downhill skateboarding advocates sit behind California Highway Patrol Lt. Steve Larson on Tuesday as they listen to testimony about a ban on skateboarding on certain county roads. The Board of Supervisors ultimately voted to approve the ban. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Citing the need to balance public safety with the right to use the road, county supervisors approved a ban on Tuesday that would prohibit skateboarding on three roads with steep grades, where the California Highway Patrol and county staff have said excessive speeds make it inherently dangerous since skateboards don’t have brakes and skateboarders can be traveling at 30 mph or more.

 Several people have been injured in the activity during recent months, prompting law enforcement to step in and ask for a ban.

The restrictions will apply to San Marcos Road, 600 feet north of Via Parva, north of the bridge to Highway 154. Painted Cave Road between East Camino Cielo and Highway 154 will also would be off-limits as would Gibraltar Road in the unincorporated section of the county between Santa Barbara city limits and East Camino Cielo.

The supervisors passed the ban 4-1, with Supervisor Steve Lavagnino voting against the ban. The ban would go into effect in August.

The county code would not prohibit special skateboarding events on the roads, just day-to-day activities, county staff said, because the special events would require their own permits and the road was closed down during the event.

At the beginning of the meeting, staff showed a video of the young people skateboarding down a sharp turn as cars came around the turn, missing the car but wiping out later. 

Because the roads in those areas are narrower than 20 feet, a yellow line can’t be painted, according to Public Works Director Scott McGolpin.

About a dozen people from the downhill skateboarding community spoke eloquently about why they should be allowed to use the roads, as bicycles and other vehicles do.

Brad Miller, president of Riptide Sports Incorporated, said that “skateboarding continues to be a second-class citizen” to other forms of recreation, like cycling.

Miller held up one of the specialty skateboards used for downhill speeds, and was interrupted by Supervisor Peter Adam.

“I just want to know if they have brakes,” Adam asked.

Miller responded that they didn’t, but riders use their hands and special gloves to maneuver their board sideways to come to a “complete stop.”

“Like those guys on the video?” Adam replied.

Tyler Howell, who said he’s been able to travel the world while downhill skateboarding, assured the supervisors that skaters were in control during their downhill descents.

“We may have different methods of braking … but we can keep the exact same pace and control as a bicyclist,” he said.

One speaker, a manufacturer of special wheels to be used for downhill skating, said that the wheels allow skaters to safely maintain speeds of up to 67 miles per hour.

Most skaters on the roads being considered Tuesday only reach 35 miles per hour, he said, safely within the limits of the equipment.

Downhill skater Eric Singer stated that banning skating on the steep roads “would be like banning surfing at Rincon because the waves are too dangerous.”

Another skater said he had been involved in a head-on collision last October while downhill skating in the area, but that his accident was a result of a car drifting into his lane to pass a pedestrian around the curve from him.

CHP Lt. Steve Larson was on hand to talk about law enforcement’s view of the issue, and said that the roads were way too narrow and steep to allow the activity.  

Larson framed it as a “Pros versus Joes” conundrum, in that some people are highly skilled and able to control their boards going downhill, but others aren’t as skilled and could be at risk for personal harm.

“I don’t want to be the bad guy, but there is a safety concern here and that’s what we want to address,” he said.

Larson was also asked about 27-year-old Tara Tate, who suffered major injuries in June after she crashed into a vehicle while skateboarding down Gibraltar Road. Larson confirmed that the young woman had been on the wrong side of the road when she was struck by a truck coming around a corner.

The young woman, who was wearing a full-face helmet at the time, suffered a skull fracture, blood on the brain, pulmonary contusion, and broken bones in her back and head, Larson told the supervisors.  

County counsel Michael Ghizzoni said the county could be liable for dangerous road conditions without the ban.

Supervisor Lavagnino said he was prepared to vote for the ban but that after hearing the testimony said he felt the activity was very similar to cycling.

“The person on the skateboard is going to bear the brunt of the damage,” he said.

Supervisor Salud Carbajal said it was a matter of balancing public health and safety for both drivers and skaters and had received letters from both sides.

Supervisor Peter Adam said he wanted to do the Libertarian thing and allow the skaters to continue, but that the county’s liability kept him from saying yes.

“I just keep going back to the closed sessions where we talk about these lawsuits,” he said.  

Supervisor Doreen Farr said skateboards are different than bicycles because riders tend to be in a prone position so they are harder to see by drivers and oncoming traffic.

“This is not banning skateboarding. … It’s only three roads which have steep grades are very curvy and have a lot of blind corners,” she said.

Supervisor Janet Wolf thanked the skateboarders for coming to voice their opinion, but said she had to support the ban and noted that the California Highway Patrol has never come to them with a ban of this type.

“I think it’s a reasonable restriction,” she said. 

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.