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Skate Park City

Well, you have to give the City of Santa Cruz credit on this one. After years of paying not nearly enough attention to the needs of teenagers, the big cheeses have made amends by funding a new skate park--and not just your run-of-the-mill park. The proposed 18,000-square-foot grommet playground will be the biggest in the country, according to SC Parks & Recreation. The City Council kicked down 75 grand on May 13 after local skaters appealed for a new place to grind where they wouldn't have to bug business people or be harassed by cops. Good timing, since the city just happened to have some surplus funds to distribute.

The new park, however, will cost an estimated $150,000, so Parks & Rec is putting out a call for donations. Richard Novak of Santa Cruz Skateboards/NHS has donated $10,000, plus 5 percent of June sales proceeds, and the George Ow family has contributed $2,000 and may add more.

The proposed designer is Mardi's hubby, Ken Wormhoudt, a local environmental designer who has designed a number of municipal skate parks. Wormhoudt has been meeting with Parks & Rec to discuss possible locations. "San Lorenzo Park seems the most likely site," says Lisa McGinnis, special events coordinator for Parks & Rec. "It's highly revered because it's in the middle of the city, it's centrally located, it's close to bus lines and not immediately adjacent to businesses or residences."

The area McGinnis refers to is known as "The Benchlands," the flat area closest to the river banks. The park would be on the portion south of the pedestrian bridge and would extend up to an area adjacent to the children's playground. Once the site is selected, Wormhoudt will meet with local skaters, who will be given modeling clay to build their fantasy cubes to gleam.

Optimistically, McGinnis says, construction will start this fall and the park will be ready for action by next fall.

Tax-deductible donations payable to Friends of Parks and Recreation can be sent to Skate Park, c/o SC Parks & Recreation, 323 Church St., SC 95060.

Walk Talk

Last week, Nuz ran a piece on a renewed call to close off certain portions of Pacific Avenue to downtown Santa Cruz auto traffic, citing the glowing success of a pedestrian-only mall in Boulder, Colo. To provide another perspective, it may be added that many pedestrian-only mall experiments have been economic failures. Pizza My Heart owner Keith Holtaway was part of Vision Santa Cruz, which considered such proposals during the post-quake reconstruction. "A great many urban consultants were brought into the debate and every one said, 'Don't go to walking malls,' " Holtaway says. "It just seems that whole approach was tried, and it didn't work."

Boulder, he points out, has unique attributes that Santa Cruz doesn't. Downtown Boulder has a university within walking distance, for instance, and a city zoning board that stifles development of competing malls that would draw business away. "The parking isn't the point on Pacific," Holtaway says. "Quite frankly, [the consultants] found that people like to drive down through the middle of the town and spot everything and then go park the car."

The city of Eugene, Ore., opened a pedestrian-only downtown area in 1972. However, with anchor businesses fleeing and foot traffic waning, city residents voted in 1991 and again in 1994 to reopen the two main downtown streets to car traffic. "I don't think you can exclude access and visibility and on-street parking and have a successful business district," says Russ Brink, executive director of Eugene's Downtown Association. "The weight of the evidence across the country is that pedestrian malls are not good for business, with some notable exceptions. You have to look individually at each city and its circumstances."

Brink says that the flight of large department stores to large suburban malls during the 1980s led to deterioration of Eugene's ped-mall, which increasingly became a magnet for street people and transients. "Boulder is always seen as the perfect example of how a pedestrian-only mall can work, and it is one of the only examples, I would say."

Proponents of a pedestrian-only Pacific, however, are calling for cross streets and large portions of the central avenue to remain open to cars, much like Boulder's mall, which allows for cross-traffic.

Would such a plan be good for business?

"It depends," Brink says. "It's definitely preferable to closing off the center of the city like Eugene did. There's a place for pedestrian-only areas and most of them are park-like settings."

Don't Bug Me

It's common knowledge that the university on the hill throws demonstrations, rallies and protests more often than your midwestern campus throws keggers. The latest cause du jour is gnawing at the very foundation of Family Student Housing--pesky termites and how to get rid of them.

According to Rikke Addis, who lives with her husband on campus and is a member of the Family Student Housing Resident Council, the UCSC administration contracted with Cardiff Pest Control last November to eliminate the termites infesting student housing.

This raised hell with the tenants for two reasons. The first fumigation date was scheduled for mid-February, which would have forced students to vacate the premises for three days during the height of midterms. Secondly, residents became concerned when they researched the fumigant--Vikane--and discovered that it may not be that environmentally friendly, as far as toxic chemicals go.

Instead, suggested the council, the university should consider a method of extermination called Thermal Pest Eradication (TPE), which cooks the little critters by elevating the temperature of their nests from 120 to 140 degrees. But, according to another resident, Marie Clary, officials seem to be dragging their feet on this suggestion. She says scheduled talks between representatives of the resident council and the university have been repeatedly postponed or canceled.

To that end, figure on a demonstration this Friday morning at the entrance to Student Housing.

UCSC Director of Public Information Elizabeth Irwin responds, "No final decision has been made, but there is an ongoing investigation into alternatives." However, she adds darkly, "if it is more costly to take this [TPE] approach, it may be necessary to consider increases in rent."

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From the June 20-26, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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