OAKLAND — It's been a year since the clandestine builders of the Bordertown Skatepark in West Oakland went public to save their creation from being torn down by Caltrans.

And although it looks as if they have abandoned the effort to expand the venue — a mounting pile of trash and discarded furniture outside a locked gate is the only sign of life — the thrashers say they are not about to give up their dream of finishing Oakland's first skateboard park.

"It doesn't look like we've been doing anything, but behind the scenes a lot is going on," said Tony Miorana, a skater who helped park founder Josh Matlock and several other skaters and volunteers of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds build the professional-looking concrete bowls and ramps in the dank underbelly of the Interstate 580 freeway.

They hauled donated bricks, rebar, water and bags of cement to the end of Louise Street, a place few visit. They alternately toiled and skated in obscurity as they carved out a space for themselves and their fellow thrashers, their sounds drowned out by the roar of freeway traffic above.

For the first time in a long time nearby residents and workers said the area was cleaner and safer — thanks to the skaters' presence.

They lasted nearly a year before Caltrans, which owns the property, took notice last August and threatened to kick them out.

Matlock and company went public, and the public responded. A last-minute reprieve brokered by city officials gave the builders the right to expand and legalize the park.


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Unfortunately, the effort is taking way longer than expected, Miorana said.

The deal was complicated. City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente worked out a deal for the city to lease 10,000-square-feet of space under the freeway from Caltrans for $100 for 21/2years. The city would in turn sublease the space to a nonprofit formed by the skateboard group.

According to the deal, the group can build out the park and open it to the public. But the backers must draw up professional engineering plans and have them approved by Caltrans before they can add any new concrete bowls or ramps. The group also has to obtain liability insurance. Until then, nobody can use the park.

The skate group is expected to have something going by the end of last year and set about the mundane, but necessary, task of raising money to do the work.

But until this week the last posting on the Bordertown Web site encouraged people to come out for an April Earth Day cleanup and referred to a meeting with the city in May. It also said it needed to raise more money.

The lack of contact concerned Frank Fanelli, the city's real estate manager, who visited the area Wednesday morning.

He climbed over discarded furniture, rug remnants, suitcases and clothing to crawl through a hole in the chain link fence and scope out the unfinished skateboard arena.

He said the skatepark group never finalized its sublease with the city, and as the primary leaseholder with Caltrans, the city of Oakland is responsible for the property and its condition.

He said he didn't know whether the group had decided to abandon its efforts and planned to find out.

Then this week a message appeared on the Bordertown Web site saying it was time to step up the fundraising and "get real engineering plans drawn up" so the project can get approvals and move forward.

Miorana said Friday that the plans are ready and the group is trying to meet with Caltrans in the next couple of weeks to get them approved. He said it's been a slow slog, working through all the legal issues, but it isn't aren't giving up.

"We're playing the Caltrans game, waiting, because we're not a priority," Miorana said. "We're just grateful the park is still there, that it's not destroyed ... We're all anxious to get back under there before they rains come, and get a drainage system in."

Despite several fundraisers Bordertown is not close to raising the $50,000 it expects to need for materials, although it will save money doing the construction work itself. Bordertown found out it also might have to raise money to post a demolition deposit in case their efforts fail and Caltrans has to tear it all out.

But those details won't deter it, Miorana said.

"We don't have to build it all the day we get back in there," he said. "Once people see what their money is going into, they'll come through. But right now they are like, 'Where are you guys?'"

For updates on Bordertown or to donate money or building materials, visit http://www.bordertownskatepark.org.

E-mail Cecily Burt at cburt@angnewspapers.com