OAKLAND -- Even in the "Do It Yourself" hotbed of West Oakland, a group of skateboarders may have crossed the line when they constructed a sprawling concrete playpen without city permission.
Just about everyone acknowledges that the newly-christened Lower Bobs Skatepark is an upgrade over the trash heap that once stood at the terminus of 9th Street at Interstate 880.
But several neighbors say that the skaters' refusal to consider their opinions or the city's demands to halt construction is just as big a slap in the face as people visiting the area to dump their trash.
"It's like we have no say in our community," said Marcus Johnson, who lives several blocks away from the skatepark and leads the local crime prevention council. "They wouldn't do this in Rockridge or Temescal. Why do they do it here?"
Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who represents the neighborhood, went further, saying that the skatepark builders were mostly outsiders who had taken advantage of an overburdened city that lacked the resources to stop them.
"They imposed their will on this community," she said. "It's a type of arrogance that is very disheartening."
Although Gibson McElhaney is angry about how the skatepark came to pass, she and city officials are giving the skatepark builders a chance to raise money for permits and insurance to preserve the facility.
It would cost the city about $20,000 to tear down the park, officials said.
The skatepark, which has won rave reviews from skaters and several residents, was spearheaded by a nonprofit outfit called Gauntlet. The organization raises money for parks designed and built by skaters without government approval.
"Any skater knows the difference between a do-it-yourself park and a traditional park," said Aaron Chilen, a Gauntlet board member. "With a do-it-yourself park, there is something to it that makes it feel more real. It's the idea of making something for yourself versus going out and buying it."
After building a skatepark on private property in Detroit, the group raised more than $30,000 to build the West Oakland facility, trucking in plywood, concrete and rebar.
Chilen said the organizers were mostly Oakland residents and saw themselves as trying to enhance the neighborhood. "We picked Oakland because we live in Oakland," he said.
The skatepark is not the first to rise in West Oakland without a permit. At least one of the skaters behind Lower Bob's, 38-year-old Tony Miorana, also spearheaded the Bordertown Skate Park nearly a decade ago.
In that case, city officials tried to preserve the park, but the builders couldn't manage to follow through with securing permits.
One big difference between the two parks was that while Bordertown was built in secret on Caltrans property, Lower Bobs was built on an abandoned city street and the construction quickly came to the attention of city officials.
"Four times I went and told them to stop and four times they simply ignored us and continued to do the work," Oakland's Assistant to the City
Administrator Joe DeVries said.
When the city fenced off the property, DeVries said, the park builders broke the locks.
DeVries said the city opted not to send police to stop construction because the understaffed department had more important tasks than dealing with illegal construction projects.
Chilen said he understood why city officials were upset, but that organizers hoped they could work with the city to keep the park from getting torn down.
Organizers have an attorney working pro bono and are exploring how to raise money for permits, insurance and a title search because it's unclear whether all of the land is city owned.
If successful, it would be the second skatepark in West Oakland. The city is working with community members to build a concrete facility at Defremery Park.
Residents appear divided on the fate of Gauntlet's skatepark.
Dave Fitzgerald, who lives within earshot of the park, said it has improved the neighborhood. "I don't know why the city, with all the problems that Oakland has, is threatening to tear it down," he said.
But Dorothy Paynes, who has lived in West Oakland for over 45 years, said the city needs to show that lawlessness won't be accepted in the neighborhood. "I think they need to take it out," she said. "We have laws here. I don't think anyone should come from anywhere else and violate those laws."
Chilen said that members of Gauntlet and their funders always knew that the park might not last. "That's just the way it is," he said. "If they tear it out, we're just going to have to start skating somewhere else. But if we can jump through all the hoops, we'll have built a huge, epic skate park in West Oakland where everybody can skate."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.