At the beginning of the month, government officials in San Clemente, California dedicated one of their almost daily coronavirus-related press releases to the city's parks and recreational facilities.
"During the stay at home orders, residents are asked to stay inside as often as possible. However, the City recognizes the importance of physical activity and fresh air," it wrote. "Residents are encouraged [to] continue to get routine exercise through outdoor activities within their neighborhood vicinity."
But the city also announced that it was closing all of its baseball, soccer, and football fields, all of its basketball, tennis, pickleball, and volleyball courts, all of the playgrounds, one city-operated dog park, and Ralphs Skate Court, effective immediately. A week later, it closed the beaches, coastal waters, and coastal trails, too.
Those officials might've kicked back in their Aeron chairs thinking that was that, but of course it wasn't. The skaters kept skating. According to the San Clemente Times, the city's next move was to start investigating what they could do to keep everyone out and, after deeming security guards too expensive and fences too easy to climb, they decided that the best option was to get 37 tons of sand and fill the damn thing in.
"The City’s decision to use sand was based on the availability of the resource," San Clemente’s recreation manager Samantha Wylie told VICE. "The sand was readily available and recycled from playgrounds which have been refurbished over the past few years. Additionally, sand is a material that is least likely to damage the skate court surface—other materials could cause discoloration or prolonged damage to the surface."
But Stephanie Aguilar, the president of the San Clemente Skatepark Coalition, said that the city could've done a better job—or any job—of communicating their intentions. She also thinks that the Skatepark Coalition might've been able to get the word out that the park was off-limits, without using 74,000 pounds of sand.
"We continued to hear frustrated comments from different groups,” she told the Orange County Register. "We have a pretty far reach with the skate community, we would have been happy to spread the message. But there was no warning or anything […] To see a picture of the skate park in this state, I think it really struck a chord with a lot of people.” (And it's not like San Clemente officials don't know how to get in touch with Aguilar: Three years ago, she was the Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year… largely for her efforts to improve Ralphs and other skateboarding facilities).
San Clemente isn't the only city currently using sand as a skater deterrent. A couple of days later, the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks used bulldozers to mostly fill in the Venice skate park, too. "We've had continuous violators … and we want them to stop," Rose Watson, a Recreation and Parks spokesperson said. "We're doing this for our safety, their safety and the safety of others. When this is all over, trust me, we will open [the skate parks again], but right now it's important for them to not use the skate parks."
In San Clemente, Wylie said that the park will remain closed "until further notice," and that Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies and Park Rangers will continue to scope out the area to ensure that no one is trespassing at the facility.
But like the saying goes 'Where there's a will and a group of dudes with shovels, there's a way.' On Sunday, videographer Connor Ericsson filmed several men clearing sand out of sections of the park so some of them could skate, and others could ride dirt bikes through the sand.