Former Santa Cruz locals Jameson and Laura Lucero were in for a shock when they moved to Nipomo five years ago. Coming from the "skate capital of the world," the couple found Nipomo's lack of recreational activities staring starkly at them.
"It's really sad, because I have young children, and when I take them to the little kids playground at the park where the skate park is supposed to be, the middle-schoolers are blasting music [there]. The moms are staring, giving them dirty looks. They literally have no space here," Laura said.
- File Photo By Jayson Mellom
- REMEMBERING HOME In 2017 Cody Barrackman skates at "the Rec," a makeshift skate park that no longer exists at the site of Nipomo's old recreation center, which was destroyed by arson in 2008.
Laura used to work at Dana Elementary Bright Futures, which put her close to the concerns of Nipomo's children and teens. Bright Futures is an after-school program conducted by the elementary school on Tefft Street, a little more than a mile from the old recreation center where Nipomo's youth set up a makeshift skate park. But in April 2021, the DIY skate park known locally as "the Rec" was torn down to pave the way for a shopping center to include outlets like a Tractor Supply Co. and a Wendy's restaurant.
Community members have been waiting for a skate park since 2017, a project they'll likely have to wait for longer because of budget constraints. The Rec's demolition underscored Nipomo's underserved status when it comes to recreational facilities. San Luis Obispo County Parks and Recreation Department officials attributed the lack of amenities to low funding and tight purse strings. But Nipomo residents claim the town's revenue is redirected away from them.
"People here feel like all of these out-of-town investors are buying up real estate in this small town and pumping out these fast and cheap money-making franchises with no regard for the values, the health, or the culture of kids in our community. The interest of the youth aren't represented the way they deserve," Laura said.
Laura mentioned 24-year-old local Matthew Diaz, who was fatally struck by a car in 2019 when he was riding his skateboard at night on the Frontage Road near the Rec. His death made waves in Nipomo's skating community, and residents even called for better street lighting and sidewalk improvements. This month, the county Public Works Department started construction on the crosswalks beside Dana Elementary, close to where the future skate park will be, to make it safer for pedestrians.
Recreational facilities like the ones Nipomo wants fall under the purview of the Parks and Rec Commission, which assigns priority to projects once the SLO County Board of Supervisors allocates funds for them. Second District Parks Commissioner Pandora Nash-Karner told New Times that the county has been strict with fund distribution, which contributed to areas receiving fewer amenities.
"There's absolutely no money. It's always been my feeling that the Board of Supervisors doesn't see arts as really important. The board hears from all the departments and basically thinks of Parks as swing sets for Donnie and Susie to play, not understanding that people need to be outside, they need to connect with others, they need all the things that nature provides," she said.
Nash-Karner added that the commission has two needs from the county before it can effectively address the gap in recreation: funding to hire another planner to research and write more grants that are up for grabs, and a higher marketing budget for Parks and Rec to boost its revenue generation.
Nick Franco, the director of Parks and Rec, told New Times that the county is also stretched thin because all of its regions need their own recreational facilities.
"We have to try and provide that equitable amount throughout the county. That is the challenge. We're going to get a skate park in Nipomo and we have one in Los Osos. But we don't have anything up in North County. That should be a priority as well," Franco said. "We have ball fields in Nipomo and we have some in El Chorro ... but do we have anything up in Cambria? No, we don't."
But lifelong Nipomo residents like Elijah Coleman think their town needs more than just the four baseball fields it houses. He played there as a child, and now, 35 years later, his children bat there, too. Coleman, a Little League board member, thinks it's time for an upgrade.
"Nipomo doesn't get their fair share of recreation revenue even though they produce most of it in the county. Nipomo Little League maintains and improves the baseball fields strictly on volunteer time and sponsor money," he told New Times via Facebook. "The skate park is a great start to getting some of that revenue back to Nipomo instead of it going to Avila/SLO. It would be nice to get funds to fix the existing baseball fields and add more."
Franco mentioned an added obstacle to installing more ball fields: SLO County's dwindling water levels. He said that using the available water for recreation would affect the amount needed for housing.
Coleman hopes that revenue generated from the expected Dana Reserve—a Nipomo-based county project proposed to have almost 1,300 housing units—could be used to build a sports complex.
He isn't the only resident offering a roadmap to a coveted local facility. Laura and her husband, Jameson Lucero, are also working with a business-mentoring group called SCORE SLO to figure out how they can set up a skateboard shop in Nipomo. They plan to donate the projected revenue to build the proper skate park, an area that Nipomo's skaters want dedicated to the late Diaz. To Salinas-native Jameson, skateboarding is a beacon of light for young people.
"There's really nothing for them to do if you're not into basketball or team sports. Coming from Salinas—there's a lot of gangs and violence—I've seen what skate parks can do for communities," he said. "When they built the park there, I saw a lot of kids have outlets to express themselves. It gave them a safe place." Δ
Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal at email@example.com.