When the SoMa West Skate Park opened under the Central Freeway earlier this month, skateboarders greeted it enthusiastically, crowding the park with kickflips and ollies at all hours of the day.
To the chagrin of some neighbors, all hours of the day means all hours of the day.
Neighbors are less than thrilled by what they deem excessive noise coming from the park, both during its normal operating hours (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.) and well past dark. The park’s 5-foot fence and lack of security make late-night skate sessions a frequent occurrence.
“During the day, I can deal with skateboard noise,” said A., a Stevenson Street resident who did not wish to be identified for fear of future trouble. “For me it’s just an issue at 4 in the morning. Just don’t. Don’t hop the fence and skateboard. It’s real simple.”
Neighbors call the police on a nightly basis and say they’ve received prompt responses, but know the cops cannot come out every time. “The Southern Station is a big area, and they have a lot of violent crime going on, and here we are bothering them with this ridiculous nonsense,” said Meagan Makinson, another resident.
After-hours skating is not confined to the park itself. Residents often awaken to the sound of skateboards going up and down the cobblestone paving of Stevenson Street. The noise has quickly become a nuisance.
“When they come out of the skatepark, they use the corners to do jumps,” said A., who has recorded decibel measurements of the noise levels using a smartphone app. According to her readings, the levels ranged from 64 dBA at ambient street noise to 84 dBA when a skateboarder passes by, both at around 1 a.m.
The San Francisco Department of Public Health has noise limits intended to prevent health problems that result from “persistent exposure to elevated levels of community noise.” Within residences, these limits are 55 decibels during the day (7 a.m to 10 p.m.) and 45 decibels at night.
“We’re already on the edge of what you can tolerate for your health,” said Meagan. “So when you throw in more noise, even during the day, you’re throwing it on top of a really crappy situation.”
But the park’s users may not see this as their problem. One skater, known as ANT, says that neighbors are “just not used to noise” while another, who calls himself SirDenzel Lumsey, acknowledged the situation but said that everyone skates down the street “at least once.”
Others added that the freeway already makes this a loud area, and neighbors should accept that they live in a noisy space.
“We all moved in knowing the freeway was here,” said another of the park’s neighbors. “We’re not a bunch of newbies with sensitive ears. We could not have chosen to move into a louder space, so the fact that this is bothering us means it’s a real fucking problem.”
While noise has had the most persistent impact, there are also concerns about drugs and drinking, and there has been at least one instance of skater-related violence.
On July 13, a man living on Elgin Park, two streets down from Stevenson and the skate park, was assaulted by three skaters in their 20s. According to police reports, the resident asked the young men to move from his front stairs, at which point the skaters pummeled him with their fists before striking him repeatedly with a skateboard. All three were arrested, and the man was treated on the scene for his injuries.
And then there’s the public urination.
“I have multiple times stopped guys as they were in the process of urinating and said very politely ‘Please could you not? Respect the neighborhood,’” said a resident. “And every time I’ve gotten a response that included something about ‘Why don’t you make them put a bathroom in the skate park?’”
Local businesses agree. An employee of Scuderia, a motorcycle shop across the street from the park, said that his main interaction with skaters is over the use of the shop’s restroom. Another employee added that he has seen whole groups of skaters roll up just to use their bathroom.
Neighbors think building a public bathroom is just a first step. The city could erect a taller fence to eliminate after-hours skating and construct sound mitigation for daytime noise.
As for the skating down Stevenson Street, the city is already addressing the problem.
Steven Cismowski, a San Francisco city planner, approved the relocation of the park’s entrance from Stevenson to Duboce, nearer to Mission. The hope is that the new entrance will reduce pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the neighborhood.
Such solutions are precisely what Stevenson Street residents hope to accomplish by voicing their concerns. The issue, they say, is not so much with the skaters themselves, as with the lack of response from the city.
“We’re not anti-skater, I love looking out there and seeing them go. I think it’s a beautiful-looking space, certainly better than a parking lot,” said another aggrieved neighbor. “The problem isn’t with the skaters. The problem is with the planning process, the construction process and the lack of any reasonable foresight into mitigating what are entirely obvious problems with the design, and that fault lies with the city.”