Sometimes it’s a good thing that the legislative process is abysmally slow. It keeps a lot of bad laws off the books. But unfortunately, the snail’s pace of state politics also prevents obsolete laws from being efficiently updated and overturned.
This is true for California’s ban on motorized skateboards that went into effect in the 1970s. At the time, motorized skateboards were loud and heavy polluters. State lawmakers felt that these factors were sufficient grounds for a sweeping ban that is still in effect today.
Regardless of whether or not the 1970s boards should have been banned, the fact is that today’s boards are completely different and shouldn’t be bound by the outdated, one-size-fits-all legislation. The “Zboard,” for instance, is 100 percent electric and has zero tail-pipe emissions. Yet Zboard, manufactured by Hermosa Beach-based Intuitive Motion, struggles to maximize its California customer base. Intuitive Motion co-founder Ben Forman says that the gray area of the legislation is hurting his bottom line.
“It is potentially putting a ceiling on our market, a ceiling on our business, a ceiling on how many boards we can build, a ceiling on how many square feet we can rent, how many people we can hire,” said Forman.
Why stay in California, then, when the regulatory environment is so uninviting?
“We’re in California because it’s the pulse of skateboarding,” Forman said. Electric skateboarding in particular is becoming more popular because as Forman noted, “it’s good for those in-between commutes. … If it’s too far to walk and too short to drive, that’s where an electric skateboard can really come in handy.”
Forman has teamed up with State Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, to fight the ban. Together, they dedicated time to educate lawmakers about the ban and the differences between the purely electric boards today versus the gas-powered boards from previous decades. After having an electric skateboard demonstration at the Capitol, it appeared as though they had no serious political opposition. So far so good.
But apparently having an unopposed bill isn’t enough. Olsen was supposed to bring her amendment, Assembly Bill 2054, to the floor in the spring. Yet because of the convoluted political process, she has had to return to the drafting stage.
“We discovered, as we were working on AB2054 in the legislative process,” says Olsen, “that there are a lot of technical challenges that need to be fixed to make sure that they’re consistent with other parts of the vehicle code and that the language is being written concisely enough.”
Olsen has had to outline the maximum wattage and speed that’s acceptable for skateboards. The bill is now several pages long and specifies that the amendment would “authorize an electrically motorized skateboard to be propelled in a bicycle lane or on a bikeway or bicycle path or trail if it has an electric motor with a power output of not more than 1,000 watts that is incapable of propelling the device at a speed of more than 20 miles per hour on ground level, and meets other criteria, as specified.”
Olsen plans to reintroduce the bill early next year, and she is confident that the “prohibition on motorized skateboards will be deleted from law.” In the mean time though, entrepreneurs like Forman will continue to suffer through California’s red tape.
It’s hard to swallow that even without any political opposition, a bill as simple as allowing electric skateboards to share the road can’t get through the state Legislature in a timely manner. And since this is just skateboards, it’s even scarier to think about how many hoops lawmakers and reform advocates would have to jump through to get more egregious laws repealed.
Tracy Oppenheimer is a producer at Reason TV and Reason magazine. This column originally appeared in the Orange County Register.