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By Julie Pendray

Photo courtesy County Parks and Recreation

August 22, 2017 (Lakeside) -- Lindo Lake Skatepark in Lakeside has been a source of community pride since it opened in 2014, next to Lindo Park Elementary School. But, for the past few months, Sheriff’s deputies and County Parks staff have been asked to keep a closer watch there due to increased concerns over alcohol and drug use. Some parents say they no longer take their children there because of bad examples and potential risk. Others are encouraging residents to keep supporting what has been a highly popular facility that was 20 years in the making, from conception to fruition. They say it still offers many positive outlets for all ages. Parks staff and law enforcement encourage the public to call whenever they see a problem.

The skate park is part of Lindo Lake County Park on Lindo Lake Road. It has drawn an average of 100 visitors a day, according to County Parks and Recreation, and is the result of a large donation from the Tony Hawk Foundation, with private contributions, including coins thrown into collection jars at local convenience stores.

"The skate park has been a huge success and is a tremendous asset for the community,” County Supervisor Dianne Jacob recently told East County Magazine. Jacob took part in the opening ceremony. “I was pleased that we were able to get state legislation passed so the park could accommodate bikes, scooters and wheelchairs. Any type of illegal activity at the park isn't acceptable and should be immediately reported to the Sheriff's Department."

Sheriff’s records, provided by Lt. Brian Nevins, show drug and alcohol abuse, assault, battery, vandalism and other incidents mentioned in 15 report calls to the general skate park area from January 2016 to the end of July 2017. Seven of these ended in arrests. Another list of about 110 calls for service, including some of the formerly mentioned listings, were received by the Sheriff’s Department, for the same period. They included young runaways, discharge of a firearm and various types of disturbances. Three on this list resulted in arrests, including one in which someone shot at a car or dwelling. (see attached data sheets:  1 and 2) The data did not show a recent increase in problems or calls. However, Nevins, who oversees the Lakeside Sheriff’s substation, described his staff’s increased efforts to curb problems.

Photo courtesy Billy Ortiz

"We met with park managers and supervisors on July 6th after a video was posted on social media of one of the residents confronting some of the supposed patrons at the skate park. We have since increased directed patrols and extra patrols. Part of the issue is that the loitering is done outside of the skate park where many of the rules like smoking don't apply.”

The videographer was Billy Ortiz, an avid birdwatcher at the park. Ortiz told ECM he confronted the young people when he went to pick up his grandson and to look at some bricks he’d had placed in a memorial wall for his late son. He said he wasn’t able to get to the wall because four young people were standing on the bricks. Ortiz said two of the teens stopped smoking their marijuana out of a bong and walked away when he asked them to, but he was verbally assaulted by a young man smoking a cigarette. On a second occasion, 10 kids harassed him, he said, while he sat across the street in his car, to receive a phone call. He said he hasn’t returned since. He has asked for a meeting with County Parks.

Ortiz told ECM, “It is not the kids that are at fault. We all dropped the ball and when no one is watching the kids, well, they do drugs at the park. Not all of them but many. I also see cars pull up to the curb next to the skate park and people inside start smoking pot before they get out to use the skate area. I think it is an easy fix. I think if Sheriff’s deputies did a walk around more often, or if park staff were a little more vigilant or if parents talked to their kids, it would go a long way in reeling the attitude of the skate park back in check like it was when it first opened.”

Terry Burke-Eiserling of Friends of the Skatepark, who co-chaired the committee to get the skate park rolling, has repeatedly asked Facebook commenters not to judge the kids but to help with positive solutions. She told ECM, “I love the skate park. I love the volume of recreation that our park receives from ages 3 to 55.  There is nothing better than hearing, ‘Ms. Terry, watch me. I learned a new trick today’ or ‘Ms. Terry, I got a job today,’ or ‘I graduated from elementary,’ or ‘high school’ and ‘I got accepted into a college.’ There is nothing better than seeing the friendships form, plus the fact that they aren’t on their phones, that they are working out differences and celebrating successes together.”

On a public Facebook page called Brush Fire Partyline/San Diego East County, commenters such as resident Martha Morrison said there have been problems in the park area long before the skate park came about, dating back to the ‘60s, and that young kids are the least of the problems in a general area where some adults use crystal methamphetamine and homeless people live in cars. Other residents questioned why the skate park was placed in that area, then. Accessibility was the answer offered. Some people offered suggestions including fencing and a hired employee to watch activity there.

County Parks Public Outreach Manager Jessica Geiszler told ECM that staff are working with law enforcement to reduce problems. “Parks will continue to take action against illegal activity. Our team patrols the skate park multiple times per day. We also rely on park users to let us know if they see anything suspicious.” She said volunteers help County Parks, and the public can share information about rules with other users or make calls to law enforcement if needed.

Nevins said he has received an email from a resident stating that his team’s extra patrols have made a difference. He said he has talked with County Parks about whether prevention could be done through environmental design.

Officials and social media commenters do agree that anyone noticing illegal activity at or near the park should call the Sheriff’s non-emergency line at 858-565-5200.

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