Friends of Polliwog Park. Courtesy of Julie Profet
Manhattan Beach resident Julie Profet knew something had to be done when she heard that a skatepark could be developed in her neighborhood’s most treasured open space.
In the last few years, Polliwog Park, an 18-acre open space surrounding a large pond on the east side of Manhattan Beach, has been drawing more people from neighboring cities after it got new play structures, exercise equipment and a dog park.
Profet was happy to share the park, she said, but the noise and traffic spilling over from Polliwog somehow became the new norm. Residential streets were often cluttered with visitors’ parked cars, especially on weekends. The thought of hearing the additional sound of skateboards hammering on cement all day was unbearable.
Friends of Polliwog Park prevailed Tuesday night at the City Council meeting, where a unanimous vote pulled the park from further consideration as a location for the proposed 12,000 sq. ft. skatepark. The Council also approved $20,000 to hire a consultant with skatepark expertise to carry the process moving forward. Under the motion, the selected consultant will not be allowed to bid on the development, quelling concerns about a potential conflict of interest.
“It was the first time we felt we’d been heard,” Profet said after the meeting.
On Jan. 7, the City Council dusted off the long deserted prospect for a hometown skatepark, approving the formation of an ad hoc committee to conduct public hearings and review its feasibility in the town’s already compact four square miles. By its May 12 meeting, the committee had narrowed 20 potential sites to three: all located in Marine Avenue Park. Polliwog Park, where the commissioners had identified four potential sites, was ruled out citing reasons related to traffic, noise and access.
But at the following meeting on May 19, Profet and her neighbors were told that a new potential location had been identified on Polliwog, and just like that, the park was back on the table.
“We voiced strong objections about having it so close to our house,” Profet said. “But we felt like we weren’t being heard at all. We got a sense that they really wanted to put it in Polliwog. There were very well-connected people that wanted the skatepark in Polliwog. That’s what we felt we were up against.”
So she rounded up a group of neighbors and began organizing. They went door-to-door delivering the news — that Polliwog was a top contender for the skatepark — and she was often met with shock, she said. Word traveled fast, and Friends of Polliwog was officially formed last month. Last week, she delivered a petition signed by some 450 individuals opposing the consideration of Polliwog.
On Tuesday, some 40 members of Friends of Polliwog donned green T-shirts and picket signs urging the Council to preserve the natural habitat from development.
Resident Cheryl Lynn, who grew up a block from Polliwog, underscored the need to preserve what she argued was the only remaining leisure park on the town’s east side. Manhattan Heights and Marine Avenue parks both bustle with team sports every day, she said.
“Polliwog Park is not a blank slate,” Lynn told the Council. “It is a subtle yet effective and essential ecosystem. … It’s an essential component of human physical and psychological good health, well being and survival. Being pro open green space does not make me anti skatepark.”
One resident argued that 12,000 sq. ft. of new development would bring minimal impact on the 18-acre park.
“We’re not looking to degrade the park,” he said. “It’s a large park that can be enhanced by a beautiful skatepark. Do we have to wait for a kid to get hit by a car for us to provide a skatepark?”
All council members said they opposed placing the skatepark at Polliwog for one reason or another. Councilman Mark Burton, a Friends of Polliwog member, agreed that “it was the last piece of open space we have.” Councilman David Lesser said he “believes strongly we can’t force a park where the neighbors don’t want it.”
The Council’s decision to rule out Polliwog was met with cheers and applause.
Council members also discussed how the city will fund the skatepark, which is estimated to cost between $400,000 and $1 million. Mark Leyman, director of Parks and Recreations, said staff can explore a public-private partnership, like the American Youth Soccer Organization’s installation of synthetic turf at Marine Avenue Park, and look into recruiting private donors like Skechers or the Tony Hawk Foundation. A fundraising campaign via Kickstarter is also an option, he said.
Mayor Amy Howorth, highlighting the lack of recreational facilities for individual athletes, said she is willing to put city funds into the project.