Skateboarders who live in Orange are one of a few in Orange County without their own local skatepark. 

A growing coalition of residents and business owners are looking to change that.

In the last decade, skateparks have popped up in cities across Orange County; there are at least 30 skateparks scattered around the county.

While surrounding cities like Fullerton, Irvine, and Tustin each have at least one park,–Anaheim has a whopping seven–Orange still lacks that fundamental space for skateboarders to use.

Left to right, Comer Demki, 21, Drew Ngyuen, 20, Nick Lim, 18, Anthony Brow, 15, Hector Hernandez, Devin Marshall, 18, use a local parking lot to skateboard on Monday, Nov. 6, 2021. The group of skaters are advocating for a skatepark in the city of Orange. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Without a skatepark in the city, skaters are forced to take to the streets and other areas where skateboarding may be prohibited, risking safety hazards and legal trouble.

The lack of a park in Orange has led community members to push for a project proposal at Grijalva Park.

Orange has had skateparks in the past, but they have all since shut down. 

The infamous Big-O skatepark shut down in 1981 and the Vans Skatepark in The Outlets at Orange has not reopened since February 2020 after a 25-year old BMX rider died in an accident

Rather than sit by as other cities take the lead, local skateboarders have decided to do something about it and work towards finally getting Orange a skatepark.

Marc Conner, owner of Contenders Boardshop in Orange, has been rallying to build a skatepark in the city ever since he opened up his shop in 2017. 

“There’s a community aspect to it. A skatepark definitely fosters that community, so it only made sense to really try to get that started.”

Mark Conner, owner of Contenders Boardshop in Orange

“It allows everyone of all ages to experience it and utilize it, especially now because skateboarding is 50 plus years old. There’s been multiple generations that have grown up participating in it. Now, it’s not just a youth driven sport. Even though it’s predominantly driven by the youth, it’s not just for the youth,” Conner said.

Before Connor moved to Orange, he was partnering with a shop in Anaheim Hills that was helping a family build a park in memory of their son. That, along with opening up his own shop in Orange, is what inspired this idea.  

Conner began the initiative by gathering signatures and giving a public comment at the August 14 City Council meeting in 2018, where he requested to be put on an upcoming agenda. The matter was indeed added as an agenda item and discussed at a Council meeting on February 12, 2019. 

For more information on details of the project, Conner points people to Contenders’s website or on Instagram @contenders_boardshop or @grijalva_skatepark_buildfund

Community Services Director Bonnie Hagan gave a presentation at the February city council meeting, detailing Grijalva Park’s history and seeking input from Council on how to proceed with the available land. 

According to Hagan, Grijalva Park is 42 acres of land owned by the City with a little over nine acres remaining undeveloped. 

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The skatepark group is not the only one requesting to build on Grijalva Park. 

At the February Council meeting, Hagan said that the City has received formal requests from Greater Orange Community Arts Theater to build a community arts theater on the space, Orange Regional Competitive Aquatics to build a community pool, and Orange Public Library Board of Trustees to build a library facility; Hagan also recognized community discussion for a senior center on the lot. 

In an interview,  the city’s Public Information Officer, Paul Sitkoff, gave an update on competing projects saying  the Library Board of Trustees has proposed a library branch with a multi-use senior center, Greater Orange Community Arts Theater is currently raising funds, and Orange Regional Competitive Aquatics is not moving forward with its project. 

The projects are not in competition with one another, as any or all of them could be given the opportunity to build on Grijalva Park, Sitkoff said.

A majority of Council members were supportive of the prospect of projects that could be beneficial to the community. 

“The skatepark–I wish we can make it bigger. I’m really excited. I remember the Big-O growing up. I love the fact that we’ve got our shop owners and you’re willing to step forward and raise some dollars and you’ve already reached out to Vans and some of the major opportunities for grant funds and sponsorships,” said Councilman Chip Monaco at the February 2020 meeting. 

“I’m really excited. I want you guys to go forward and study this and bring back more details and cost details so that our nonprofits really know what they’re looking at in cost,” Monaco said. 

Mayor Mark A. Murphy spoke about Orange’s dedication to community projects at that same meeting. 

“If you put together a good idea and project, the City of Orange will come forward and support it. I think all of these make a lot of sense here and, frankly, was a vision early on of what Grijalva Park was meant to be,” said Mayor Mark A. Murphy.

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Former Councilman Mike Alvarez, who resigned later after the February meeting, was optimistic then about finding the funds. 

“I’m certain the money is out there. It’s just a matter of knocking on doors and asking, but I want to encourage everybody. Let’s move forward,” said Alvarez.

Despite support for the projects from Council members and various community members, there is a roadblock that must be addressed: the City is strapped for funds. According to Mayor Murphy, Orange is “land rich and cash poor.”

City officials on their own cannot allocate funds to these projects at the moment because according to an emailed statement by Sitkoff, “City Public property is under the prevue of the City Council, and who decides what project to move forward after deliberation and public input. Capital Improvement Projects are programmed five years out. The City generally does not have additional discretionary money available for capital projects outside of the CIP process.”

The owner of the Contenders skate store holds out a fundraiser flier on Monday Nov. 19, 2021. The money raised from the community effort will be used to build a 10,000 sq. ft. skatepark in Orange. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

For this reason, city officials have drafted a letter authorizing each of the groups to have the ability to raise funds. 

The skatepark project has so far raised just over $20,000. Through Contenders, Conner has been setting aside $5 for every shoe sold and $1 for every deck sold. The shop also has a bucket where customers can make donations. 

In addition to Contenders’s efforts, the skatepark initiative is also sponsored by a 501(c) fiscal nonprofit called Bridge to Skate. 

“The benefit of having a fiscal sponsor is now they get to help out. It allows us to approach other businesses, individuals, to make substantial donations that they can utilize as a tax deduction,” said Conner.

David Gillanders is the executive director of the nonprofit Pathways of Hope that works on homelessness, food insecurity, and affordable housing in North Orange County. He’s also a skateboarder himself and father of a skateboarder. 

Gillanders heard about the Grijalva skatepark project while at Contenders and has been using his expertise working with nonprofits to help get the project going. “I’ve lived in Orange for 23 years and always kind of wondered why other cities around us would be getting skateparks but we haven’t, so when I saw that Contenders and Marc were taking an active approach to getting a skatepark developed here, I jumped on board.”

The skatepark group may be on its own in regards to getting the money and attention to the project, but it is making great strides by using every possible resource at its disposal. 

Although it may still be in its early stages, Gillanders believes that the fundraising is going well. He said that they’re looking at developing a website as a direct link for people to make donations. Contenders also had a booth at “Treats In The Streets” in Old Towne Orange.

A group of local skaters skateboard in a parking lot with makeshift ramps on Monday, Nov. 19, 2021 in Orange. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

“I think we can do it. I’m actually really confident. I think it’s gonna be a process like all things are but I think if we get good partners out in the community, folks that we can work with to solicit donations from–I wouldn’t even say donations, they’re investments in their own community–and then also having the City on board to help partner and get it done,” said Gillanders. “I don’t think the City wants to just stand by idly while Anaheim and Tustin build these really great skateparks.”

If built, this park would be a free place for people of all ages to skate, a spot for them to get together and practice their favorite sport. 

“Skateparks have proven time and time again to be extremely strong investments in the community, they receive more use than other traditional sports facilities.”

David Gillanders, executive director of the nonprofit Pathways of Hope

“There’s no skatepark that you can go to almost anytime of day where there aren’t people participating in skateboarding at that park, so it’s a great thing for kids to use,” Gillanders said.

With a skatepark in Orange, skaters would have a designated place to go, thus potentially reducing skateboarding-related incidents and complaints in the city. 

To exemplify that public skateparks may have positive influences on the community, the former Tony Hawk Foundation conducted a study in 2009 that surveyed 102 officers in areas that had a skatepark for at least one year.

The most relevant finding from the study is perhaps that “85% (87) of officers stated that since the public skatepark opened in their community, their police/sheriff’s department has noticed a significant decrease in complaint calls from business and property owners regarding skate-related incidents/crimes.”

As of right now, there is no timeline for when the Grijalva skatepark could be built. According to Sitkoff, there is also no indication of how much the group needs to raise. 

While no formal figures have been given for this project, Conner estimates that, with expenses like labor, lights, parking spaces, bathroom, and safety features, it could cost around $1.2 to $1.4 million to build the skatepark.

Gillanders said that it could be “upwards of high six figures into potentially the million dollar range. I think the reality is construction in this day and age is extremely expensive.”

Because the project has not yet been approved, its trajectory is still somewhat unclear. It will take time, but Conner is hopeful that it will be seen through. 

A group of local skaters skateboard in a parking lot with makeshift ramps on Monday, Nov. 19, 2021 in Orange. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

“I want to see my kids get to use this. I want to see their friends get to use this. I want to see it happen. I just don’t want it to take 12 years, I don’t even want it to take ten years. We’re three years into this, I would love–and this is an unrealistic goal, but sometimes unrealistic goals are what you need–I would love to see funds raised in five, and then breaking ground in year six,” said Conner.

The objective now is for everyone to keep up the work and spread the word.

“We just need the community’s support, I think that’s the overall theme of all this. They say it takes a village, it really does. We need everybody, as many people as possible within the community to get behind this and help raise funds, creatively, however,” said Conner. “We need a ton of help. It will get built. Everything takes time and effort. That’s all it is, just time and effort.”


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