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Nineteen-year-old Eustaquio Lafranco wears a tank top and jeans as he pushes forward on his skateboard on a hot afternoon in August, accelerating as he approaches the curb. In a second, the trick is done: He jumps and “grinds,” or slides the bottom of his skateboard along the edge of the concrete.
Lafranco, or "Taco," as his friends call him, has been skating for nine years in his Pocket-Greenhaven neighborhood in south Sacramento. During that time, he has seen his peers grow, as kids as young as 5 and young men as old as 25 pick up boards.
For now, Taco and his friends skate at Matsuyama Elementary School or John F. Kennedy High School and improvise, using ledges and rails or anything else they can jump onto and do “wheelies” on or skateboard across. But they have bigger plans in mind.
Lafranco and a group of about 13 skaters, ranging in age from 10 years old to junior college students, started a petition in late May for the construction of a neighborhood skate plaza, and approached Councilman Darrell Fong about the idea.
“From my experience of living in this area for nearly 20 years, I have seen a huge increase in the number of skaters,” Lafranco said. “With not many places to skate, an actual skate plaza would be perfect for our area [and] will show the younger kids that we do support this hobby of theirs.”
Neither school is the ideal place to skate. Metal strips called grind blockers have been placed on concrete ledges around the school in an attempt to block skaters, while inclined landings and angled approaches make landings less safe, Lafranco explained.
The skaters have suggested Garcia Bend Park as a location for the proposed skate plaza, but it is still a long way from reality: Outreach with the community and its organizations is just beginning.
“The park is highly programmed,” said Noah Painter, district director for Councilman Darrell Fong. “We obviously don’t want to encroach on anything they have going on.”
About 15 people attended a public-input meeting on July 17 at the Robbie Waters Pocket-Greenhaven Library. The skaters, their parents and the councilman’s office were all in support and believed the plaza could be beneficial to the community.
Kanten Russell, a skateboarder turned designer, stopped by to give attendees a better idea of what the skate plaza could look like, showing example designs.
Kathi Windheim, community organizer and president at the Pocket-Greenhaven Friends of the Library, was impressed with what she saw. “There’s enough room, with ramps and runway space; it’s safer and it’s healthy, but no one [in Sacramento] has ever seen anything like that,” Windheim said.
One aspect of the early design and public-input process will be planning the skate plaza with other organizations in mind. Currently, the Greenhaven Soccer Club has a contract with the city to use and maintain Garcia Bend’s soccer parks and will be renewing the contract for another three years.
The club has 1,200 youth players, ages 4 to 19.
“We are by far the largest community organization in District 7,” said Shane Singh, president of the Greenhaven Soccer Club. “I don’t necessarily have a problem removing a soccer field if it’s in the community’s best interests, but the loss of the field would impact our ability to provide adequate fields for our teams.”
Painter said that Fong is aware of the club’s concerns and that no decision has been made yet.
"This is a conceptual process in the very, very early stage,” Painter said. “They’d really like it at Garcia Bend Park, but there is no preferred location yet.”
Windheim believes that getting the project off the ground may require more community input, feedback, and collaboration.
“The excitement’s there,” Windheim said. “The kids are there. Right now we need to do outreach to all the partners and figure out how much space we have. It has to blend into the community. You want to agree on the concept. You need to have all ideas out front.”
Singh agreed, saying in an email, “Communication and collaboration among all stakeholders is key in getting park projects built.”
A master plan meeting is still in the works and all other organizations and community members need to be “caught up” before the meeting happens, Windheim said.