DOWNEY - It would not be an exaggeration to say that without Meredith Perkins, there would be no skate park.The former Downey mayor, who served on the City Council from 1998-2006, was the mastermind behind the skate park's construction at Independence Park. He oversaw its development from start to end, helping to identify funding sources, huddling with local teenagers to discuss the skate park's design, all the way to its eventual construction and grand opening in 2002. For his efforts, the current City Council unanimously agreed this week to name the park in Perkins' honor. "I'm honored they would even think about doing this," Perkins, always modest, said in an interview this week. "The best part is it's never been one person that made this happen. It was a group. And my hope is that young people will be able to use that park for a long time." Along with rehabilitating the Rio Hondo Golf Club, Perkins said the construction of a skate park was among his top priorities when he was first elected to the council in 1998. He traveled up the California coast - from San Diego to Santa Barbara - and as far away as Seattle, touring different skate parks to see what would work in Downey. Working with former community services director Jim Jarrett, Perkins located nearly $1 million in available state grants, enough to build the skate park and also refurbish the restrooms, snack shack and tennis courts at Independence Park. Independence Park, although outside his council district, was the ideal location for a skate park because of its proximity to Bellflower Boulevard. For safety reasons, Perkins wanted the skate park to be away from homes and easily visible from the street, something that would not have been possible at Apollo Park. "I think we made a good decision where we put it," Perkins said. "I happened to have a city council that let me have my way. As far as I know we haven't had any major problems." Professional skateboarders Frank Hirata and Steve Rose designed the park after a series of town hall meetings with local teens. The 11,000 square foot skate park opened in 2002, shortly before the end of Perkins' first term on the council. When asked why the skate park was so important to him, Perkins said because "it's a place for young people to get together and enjoy the outdoors. "The skate park is a great place to congregate and exchange ideas," he said. "I think it's a great outlet." The skate park is unsupervised and there are no hard numbers on how many people use it each year. But the facility appears to get heavy use, particularly in the evening and weekends. Perkins credits its popularity to the fact that "we let the young people have a hand in designing the park. Instead of consulting with people from the top down, we went from the bottom up. And it worked." Councilman Mario Guerra, who replaced Perkins on the council after term limits forced him to step down after eight years, suggested the skate park be named in Perkins' honor. "I like to recognize people when they do extraordinary things," said Guerra. "Downey wouldn't have a skate park if not for the efforts of Meredith Perkins. He helped raise funds for it, scouted its location, worked hundreds and hundreds of hours on it. He could have easily put it at Apollo Park, in his district, but he didn't - another selfless act. "In my opinion, this is long overdue." After the City Council's action Tuesday, the park will formally be known as "Meredith H. Perkins Skate Park." A formal dedication ceremony is expected to take place later this year. "I'm extremely proud they would name that skate park after me," said Perkins. Perkins, incidentally, does not skate. After the park opened he taped a promo for a local cable news show where he strapped on a helmet and pushed off on a skateboard. "I only went about two feet," laughed Perkins, "but it looked good on tape!"
********** Published: October 13, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 26