APRIL 5, 1994

SFIndy4-5-94.jpg (132198 bytes)Skate Patrol founder Dave Miles skates with his children David III, 3, Tiffany, 5, and Melanie, 9, in Golden Gate Park. SKATE PATROL UNDER ATTACK

By Peter Tira

They've been described as foot soldiers on wheels. They've roamed Golden Gate Park every Sunday for the last 15 years, bandaging scraped knees, reuniting lost children with parents, and advocating for the thousands of skaters who invade the park every weekend.

They are members of the volunteer force that constitutes the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol and their future is in jeopardy. The skate patrol has come under increasing criticism over the last three years. Now the Recreation and Park Commission has decided to take a close look at the patrol and consider what role, if any, it will play in the future of Golden Gate Park.

"We don't know if we want to revamp it, disband it, or put restrictions on it," said Recreation and Park Commission president Jack Immendorf. "There are real, major problems with it and it's time for this commission to review the entire situation,"

The harshest criticism has come from some of the skate stores bordering Golden Gate Park, which thrive by renting and selling skates to the throngs of rollers who cruise up and down John F, Kennedy Drive every Sunday on a section of roadway closed to automobile traffic.

The shop merchants allege that the skate patrol and its charismatic leader, Dave Miles, a resident of the Richmond

District, are using the park for profit, as a headquarters for business ventures ranging from renting skates to staging competitions. Miles and the patrol are also accused of promoting certain skate shops while bad-mouthing others. Not since the late 1970s, when 10,000 skaters flooded the park every Sunday and city officials came close to banning the activity there, has the skating scene in San Francisco stirred up so much controversy.

"I cannot stand by and allow an organization within the park to act under the guise of impartiality when in reality it's a partial, for-profit business," said Lee Cole, owner of Skates on Haight. "I've known Miles for 15 years. Everyone loves him, 1 like him and 1 respect him as a skater. "I think his heart is in the right place, but he's overstepped his bounds," Cole said.

The Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol was formed in 1979 after the Recreation and Park Commission enacted sweeping legislation regulating roller-skating in the park. The roller-skating craze at the time brought unprecedented levels of skaters to the park, resulted in the filing of 30 lawsuits in less than one year against the city stemming from roller-skating accidents, and attracted a traffic jam of skate vendors renting and selling equipment from vans lined up for blocks along Fulton Street. Instead of having their recreation banned from the park, the skating community, with the blessing of the city, formed a volunteer force to patrol the activity, keep skaters out of restricted areas, and promote an atmosphere of safety and responsibility.

'The original concept of skate patrol was good," said Barbara Hobie, owner of Magic Skates. at Fulton and Sixth Avenue, who, during the 1970s.' roller-skating boom, rented skates out of a van. "Communism may have been a great concept too, but it never worked. The skate patrol was a great concept but it hasn't worked either. It's not a volunteer association," Hobie said. "It's a business. It's Dave Miles' private business."

The controversy comes amid San Francisco's second roller-skating boom, a lucrative affair born with the advent of in-line skates. Although Golden Gate Park doesn't attract the mass of skaters it did in the late 1970s, a visit to John F. Kennedy Drive on Sunday will quickly impress viewers as to just how popular skating is again becoming.

Miles, a 38-year-old native of Kansas City, Mo., came to San Francisco during the first skating boom and never left. He not only assumed the leadership of the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol but he became the most vocal advocate for skating and skaters in the city.

Defending the patrol

A tireless self-promoter, Miles has been featured in Sports Illustrated magazine and every newspaper in town. He is quick to defend the patrol. "If you look at skating in San Francisco, you can tie it directly to this group," he said. "The reason why skating is so big is because of what we do. We generate business for all these shops. Without us they would be closed down.

Both the Police Department and the Recreation and Park Department, have sent undercover agents into the park on Sundays in response to the allegations that the patrol was selling or renting skates or otherwise using the park for profit. "As far as I can tell, there is no problem with them," said Joel Robinson, Superintendent of Recreation. Robinson said the surveillance activities found no wrongdoing.

Those critical of Miles and the patrol point to the numerous skating races and other events Miles puts on under the auspices of the skate patrol or other organizations, such as the California Outdoor Rollerskating Association, for which.Miles has filed fictitious-business-name statements with the city. Miles conceded that the.organizations aren't state-sanctioned nonprofit agencies like he has said in the past and his supporters so quickly &.WI11.r the events, entry fees are collected and sponsorship monies are solicited from local skating businesses and skate manufacturers.

"Every act I do is for the best interest of skating." Miles said. "Every cent that comes from sponsors and entry fees goes back to promote other events. It's all meant to promote skating."  No one claims that Miles, a father with a wife and three children, is getting rich off the whole affair. His critics, however, say he ufairly trades on his relationship as leader of the skate patrol to promote his events and the skate shops he likes. Magic Skates owner Hobie also has charged that Miles has badmouthed her store, discouraging skaters from patronizing it.

A stormy relationship

The stormy relationship between Magic Skates and the patrol began in 1991, when longtime skate patrol member Art Howard tried unsuccessfully to open a skate store adjacent to Magic Skates. Hobie went to court and got an injunction preventing Miles from coming within 100 yards of her shop after a confrontation there last year on Easter Sunday.Howard has since opened Skate Pro Sports in the Sunset District.

Hobie and Cole argue that the patrol promotes that store over others. In fact, the address of Skate Pro Sports is listed as the address of the Golden Gate Park Skate Patrol on the patrol's stationery, flyers, and faxes. Miles provides skating lessons for customers who buy or rent skates from Skate Pro Sports.

"Everybody should be allowed to do business in the park or nobody should be allowed to do it," Hobie' said. "Why should I have to open a store, pay rent, get permits - when I can do business in the street?" He is interfering with our business and he has no right to do this," she said. "The skate patrol should be nonpartisan. It should be something for everybody."Hobie also argues that the patrol, although sanctioned by the city in 1979, has operated without any kind of oversight or background check on its volunteers.

Howard, who joined the patrol in 1987 but left three years ago to start his business, defended his store's relationship with the group."We're willing to work with the skate patrol because they're promoting the sport," he said. "The skate patrol volunteers give up their time to help people," Howard said. "If you get hurt, they will help you. They make a difference. You realize that as [a member] when you're sitting there holding someone' s hand, waiting for an ambulance to arrive.