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Rollerblading Still a Crime on Promenade

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

November 24 -- Efforts to allow rollerblading on the Third Street Promenade skidded to a sudden halt Tuesday night when the City Council voted against lifting a six-year ban on the popular activity.

The 4 to 2 vote against allowing rollerblades came despite vigourous arguments by outgoing Council member Michael Feinstein that roller blading is safer than biking and skate boarding, which are also banned on the outdoor shopping mall.

Feinstein’s argument during his final meeting that the City is "excluding a class of people" failed to sway collegues, who sided with Santa Monica Police, the Bayside District Corporation (which runs Downtown) and the Senior Commission, saying rollerblading still poses a safety risk for shoppers on the bustling walk street.

Statistical data provided by the police and testimony from the public swayed council members to keep the ban on all three activities on the Promenade, where an estimated 14 million shoppers descend each year.

"There are an intense number of people that can be on the Promenade on foot who are either young, elderly, disabled and tourists,” said Sgt. Ira Rutan, who is in charge of the Promenade beat for the Police Department. “And even though the rollerblades are attached (to the operators feet) -- they still present a hazard."

Rutan said police advised more than 5,700 people that they were in violation of the ban in the last year and a half. Of the few citations given to repeat offenders, Rutan said, only four have been handed out to rollerbladers.

"My take on those numbers is that most of the rollerbladers have abided by the ordinance and stayed off the promenade," said Rutan, who noted that pedestrian traffic moves sideways into stores and that many kids can be found on the street.

"Even if you are a good skater, accidents are bound to happen if someone is two hundred to two hundred and fifty pounds, that's a pretty big obstacle to absorb," Rutan said.

But council member Feinstein -- who along with Council member Pam O'Connor voted against the ban in 1998 and for the amendment Tuesday -- had a different take on what those numbers meant.

"I think those numbers exactly prove my point that there isn't an existing problem today,” said Feinstein, himself an avid skater. "In fact, this has been in effect for six years, we have not had lawsuits even though thousands and thousands of people continue to go out there on skates and bicycles."

Feinstein said the City is exhibiting "a lack of tolerance for alternative lifestyles," needlessly excluding a group of people from the public space based on how they get around.

"It's a public watering hole," said Feinstein. "For that subculture in our community that gets around in skates. We are, in effect, banning them from going down there when they go out."

Feinstein, who lost reelection after eight years on the City Council, denied that he had any personal motivation behind pursuing the amendment, which was first put before the council this month. Others on the council remained steadfast against the amendment.

"While I personally feel we should allow it, that's not what I'm hearing from the community," said Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown, who cited "sheaths of emails" and people who stopped him in the street asking him to uphold the ban.

McKeown noted that stores on the street prohibit people from entering with skates on because of liability and shoplifting.

"They're worried that someone could make a quick getaway in leaving the store," McKeown said.

Council member Robert Holbrook said safety for shoppers influenced his no vote, as did his consultation with incoming Council member Bobby Shriver, who he said was an "avid rollerblader."

"He told me that if the item were before him, he would vote against it," said Holbrook. "Because he enjoys rollerblading and generally moves faster than people who walk, he was worried about safety."

Council members Ken Genser and Mayor Richard Bloom voted no as well, with little public comment on the matter.

Feinstein, going on the record for one of his last votes as a city council member, said he was in support of the amendment for the "subculture" of rollerbladers with "a vigorous and long lasting yes."

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