After the Nipomo Recreation Center burned twice in May 2008 and was eventually demolished, the area’s skaters — who had been promised their own skatepark for at least a decade — took matters into their own hands.
Dragging pieces of scrap lumber onto the property at 170 S. Frontage Road, they created their own makeshift course amid the crumbling concrete, weeds, broken bottles and other debris.
Frequently chased out, their ramps and rails hauled away, they returned again and again to create their own skate course.
While residents squabbled over a proposed Nipomo Community Park Master Plan that included a site for a skatepark, dragging its approval out for years, the skaters were driven out of schools and shopping centers by citations and threats of prosecution.
Where else could they go? The vacant lot became their turf, and over the years their creation has grown more sophisticated, with formed concrete ramps, metal rails and graphics provided by graffiti artists.
When San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s deputies showed up Monday to drive them off again, a rumor circulated among the angry skateboarders that the property had been sold and the new owners wanted them out so they could begin construction.
This time, they thought, their only place to skate was soon to become a commercial development. But apparently, that wasn’t quite true.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been purchased,” said Lynn Compton, 4th District supervisor, who was at the site Monday. “There’s someone who’s thinking about buying it. That’s why everybody was up in arms there yesterday because they thought it had been sold.”
She said the potential buyers needed to have the lot cleared of people and debris so they can conduct preliminary environmental studies, checking for such things as Native American artifacts, contamination and other issues that might affect the purchase and development of the 5-acre site.
“I met them there and they gave me their card,” Compton said, adding she didn’t feel comfortable revealing the potential buyers’ identity. “They’re not local, I can tell you that. They’re from Southern California.”
But she said they are considering the site for a retail grocery store, a fast-food franchise, an implement supply store and an auto parts store.
Skaters have been waiting so long for a park in Nipomo that those who were riding boards around the community when promises were first made are now in their 30s with children of their own, and many of them have scoffed that their children will have children before a skatepark gets built in Nipomo.
In 2012, the County Board of Supervisors finally approved the Nipomo Community Park Master Plan, with a skatepark designated next to the Nipomo Library.
But a chronic lack of money has prevented the skatepark — estimated to cost $1.5 million alone — and many other major improvements from making it off the page and onto the ground.
Now, however, the Nipomo Skatepark may be on the horizon — albeit a distant horizon for the current generation of skaters.
San Luis Obispo County is in line to receive a $459,000 grant from the state that would put the Parks Department into the financial ballpark for construction of a skatepark.
“The grant’s not specifically for a skatepark,” said Nick Franco, director of the San Luis Obispo County Parks Department. “It’s money from Prop. 68, which voters passed, what, two years ago? It’s per-capita funding for parks and recreation agencies to use for specific projects.”
County Parks wants its specific project to be the Nipomo Skatepark, but first Franco has to get the County Board of Supervisors to agree to designate the money for that purpose. He expects to ask for that in September.
If the supervisors agree to allocate the funds to the skatepark, their decision will have to go to the State Parks Department, which will either approve or disapprove releasing the funds for that purpose.
“I can’t imagine any reason they would say no,” Franco said. “We already have permitted plans. That gave us an advantage in the grant application.”
If State Parks gives the OK, the grant funds could be released in December.
“We now have a balance of $600,000 to $700,000 we’ve raised that’s earmarked for the skatepark,” Franco said. “With [the grant funds], we’re in the $1.1 million to $1.2 million range. That’s so close.”
Franco said the county’s options would be to search for matching grants to reach the $1.5 million mark, take “some of the nice-to-haves” out of the design or build the park in phases.
If the grant funds are released in December, the county would likely call for bids next spring, he said. Once the contract is awarded, the county can begin negotiating the start of construction.
That means work could conceivably start in late 2021 or spring 2022.
While two years might seem like a very distant horizon to the younger generation, it might not be to longtime Nipomo skaters who have been trying to get their own park built for more than 20 years.