Is Michael Nutter an ‘anti-skateboarding’ mayor?

A City Council committee met Tuesday afternoon to discuss a bill introduced by Councilman David Oh on behalf of Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration expanding the definition of institutional vandalism to include damaging any public artwork or memorial.

“The bill will help to communicate that this kind of activity, which demonstrates a disregard for our public spaces and monuments, is quite harmful, has a significant cost associated with it and won’t be tolerated,” Chief Cultural Officer Gary Steuer said.

Though the ordinance, announced near Memorial Day, was initially touted as a crackdown targeted at the defacing of veterans’ and service members’ monuments, many soon dubbed it the “anti-skateboarding bill” for toughening only the vandalism penalties doled out to skateboarders, bikers and rollerbladers.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art’s Security Director Jimmie Greeno III said that skateboarders and bikers so frequently ride on the “glob” of the school’s recently-installed Claes Oldenburg “Paint Torch,” that a portion had to be removed, repaired and reoriented at a cost of over $10,000. “In the past we have hired security officers to stand outside to prevent this,” Greeno III said, “But it became very dangerous and costly.”

Co-founder of Franklin’s Paine Skateboard Fund Josh Nims said that he supports the legislation’s intent, but is concerned about its methods. “It doesn’t matter how much you make that fine,” he said. “What matters is whether you’re enforcing it. The amount of money they’re talking about isn’t something Council should have to vote on when the enforcement’s not happening right now.” He said he sees people skateboarding in LOVE Park – which was outlawed in 2000 – on a daily basis.

Perhaps the most vocal critic of the bill was Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who voted against moving it out of committee. She blasted the administration for failing to provide Council with the information necessary to assess the effectiveness of current vandalism laws and accused them of introducing a punitive measure as a backdoor revenue-raiser. “It is not our job to nickle and dime the public to death,” she said, noting that if they needed money for art restoration, they should have requested it during budget negotiations. “Here we go with another fine, another way to raise money for the city … This is another tax on our citizens.”

The bill passed over Blackwell’s objections and will be considered for a first reading on Thursday.

The breakdown

– The bill would add any public art or memorial to the list of properties whose damage is considered institutional vandalism.

– Those who commit institutional vandalism while NOT operating a skateboard, bike or rollerblades face the current penalty, a fine of up to $300. If an offender chooses not to contest the charge, they can settle by paying $75 within eight days of the violation.

– Those who commit institutional vandalism WHILE riding a skateboard, bike or rollerblades would face a maximum fine of $2,000 – the most the city can charge for a code violation under state law – up to 90 days in jail and possible confiscation of their vehicle. If an offender chooses not to contest the charge, they can settle by paying $500 within eight days of the violation.

– The city’s public art maintenance and repair fund was eliminated during the economic downturn of 2008 and has not yet been restored, so any revenue generated from the fines would go into the city’s general coffers rather than be specifically dedicated to the restoration of any public art.

Not Nutter’s first scuffle with skateboarders

Nutter has long been a foe of skateboarders, most infamously for a bill he introduced as a City Councilman in 2000 prohibiting the activity on all public property unless otherwise authorized. That included LOVE Park, which had for years been an icon of the sport, appearing in Tony Hawk’s “Pro Skater 2,” featured prominently in ESPN’s X-Games, which came to the city in 2001 and 2002, and drawing professional skateboarders from around the world.

Over the objections of the plaza’s planner, then-92-year-old Ed Bacon, and architect, Vincent Kling, the city began aggressively enforcing the LOVE Park skateboarding ban following a renovation of the plaza two years later.

It appears Nutter is seeking to continue his historically hard line on the sport – two skateboarders were arrested in June for allegedly causing over $3,000 in damage to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and charged with institutional vandalism, conspiracy and criminal mischief. Their trial, in which they are joint codefendants, was twice continued in August and September and is currently scheduled to resume Oct. 17.

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