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Watson: ‘A lot of discretion’ involved
Having voted against a town ordinance banning skateboarding on Mammoth streets just two years ago, the Town Council was back at it Wednesday, June 5.
The issue re-emerged after council member Jo Bacon read a recent newsletter from the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (CJPIA), which addressed the potential liability towns have from skateboard accidents on city streets.
The legal threat did not perturb the council. Though it voted 4-1 (with Bacon voting no) to dump the proposal once again.
In Mammoth, the most recent serious accident happened on Sept. 5, 2011, when an 18-year-old skateboarder died as a result of injuries suffered on West Bear Lake Drive—a private road.
Even so, the skateboarder’s family sued the town.
Since then, the insurance authority examined the issue of liability in connection with such types of accidents.
The council, in turning back a proposed skateboard ordinance in October 2011, did not address the issue of liability.
The CJPIA, however, did so in a 2013 report called “Risk Solutions,” causing Bacon to bring forth the issue.
“Accidents resulting from this activity expose cities that own the streets to potential liability for injuries sustained based on allegations of dangerous condition of pubic property,” the report stated.
“We don’t tend to do very well in lawsuits,” Bacon said during the Wednesday night meeting.
Mammoth Lakes Police Department Chief Dan Watson presented what a prohibition of skateboards on streets would entail and what options the town had to consider.
Watson took no position on whether an ordinance should be enacted, but reported that if it were, it should be a town-wide statute.
“The cities that have established ordinances restricting the use of skateboards on only certain streets have done so only in areas with hills,” he said.
“Since virtually all of Mammoth Lakes is hilly, an ordinance here should be town-wide.”
While Watson reported that some skateboards ridden on town streets “create a hazard for the riders as well as motorists,” he also said from a practical point of view, officers would use “a lot of discretion” in enforcing such an ordinance.
“This wouldn’t be directed at the safe rider,” he said in an interview before the presentation, “but it would be used for the skateboarder who is flying down Lake Mary Road, causing traffic to swerve—that kind of thing.”
However such an ordinance might be enforced, Watson said officer discretion would be a key factor.
“We’d treat these kinds of things the way we do with traffic violations. Sometimes, a driver might not come to an absolute stop at a stop sign, but if there is no other traffic around, and the driver is not causing a danger, we’d probably not cite the driver.”
Watson’s report gave the council six options, ranging from an outright restriction on the use of skateboards on all town roads, to restricting their use on specifically designated roads and sidewalks.
“We’re all subject to lawsuits,” said Brent Truax, General Manager of the Sierra Nevada Resort. “I remember one person who used to sit over there that was very adamant about not having an ordinance.” Truax recommended to not pass an ordinance to honor the late Skip Harvey’s memory, a towncouncil member who died of cancer last year and expressed a strong opinion of taking no action when the issue was brought up two years ago.
“Skateboarding is a mode of transportation, and exercise,” said Colin Fernie, of Black Tie Ski Rentals of Mammoth. “Outlawing it would upset a lot of people.”
Deanna Campbell, representing Cerro Coso Community College, cited the popular use of skateboards with local students.
“They use skateboards to get around town, to go to class, and to work,” she said. “Bikes are hard to store and they’re more expensive. Skateboarding is an economic and efficient way to get around town.”
After a short discussion, the council decided to vote.
“I do want to say one thing, for any skateboarders who are listening,” said Mayor Matthew Lehman.
“Watch where you’re going.”
Aleksandra Gajewski contributed to this report.