The Recreation Commission on Wednesday approved converting the Beach tennis courts into a pickleball-only facility starting on Feb. 27 for a five-month trial period, in an effort to help meet demand for places to play a sport that has exploded in popularity.
The commission’s 5-1 vote to begin the trial pleased most of the 30-plus people who addressed the commission on the subject, several of whom said long wait times for games are plaguing what has become a close-knit community in Piedmont.
“We really are at a tipping point for demand” for pickleball play, Piedmont Recreation Director Chelle Putzer told the commission.
Many of Wednesday night’s speakers praised Piedmont’s pickleball community for its inclusiveness, and the sport’s popularity with older residents, some of them current or former tennis players.
Nicky Silver said she recently broke arm playing pickleball in Piedmont, and that she was overcome by all the people that helped her, took her to the hospital and then home, and even made soup for her afterward.
“It’s humbling to be part of a community that is so caring,” Silver told the commission.
Added Judith Stacey, “We have a great time schmoozing with people, but you can hardly get (time) on the court.”
A few pickleball supporters from outside Piedmont spoke as well, and praised the community’s diversity, friendliness, and openness. Resident Rick Schiller said, “This represents Piedmont in the most favorable possible light.”
Some speakers who opposed the exclusive pickleball trial at Beach said the city doesn’t necessarily need non-Piedmonters taking up precious space and time on the city’s sports courts, or that non-residents should at least have to pay for the privilege.
And regardless of which pickleballers will be using Beach during the trial, Wednesday’s commission vote is considered a “takeaway” by people who have been playing tennis regularly there.
“You have no right to put one community’s well-being over another’s,” said Amy Vallerie, who brought with her a petition signed by 238 people who oppose the idea of a pickleball-only trial period at Beach.
The Beach courts were selected for the pickleball trial trial because they are Piedmont’s least-used tennis courts, and because those tennis court facilities are too small for use in formal competitive play, not having the required room to move around the net posts when those posts are properly spaced. They are also overdue for major repairs, Putzer told the commission, primarily to fix large cracks in the playing surface caused by the roots of nearby trees. Those repairs, she added, are scheduled for after the trial ends July 31.
Vallerie contended that the poor condition of the courts might well be keeping some tennis players away, and one reason why Beach is the least utilized of Piedmont’s tennis courts.
A few speakers also said they found the methodology for carrying out this trial inequitable, and that the detailed data laid out in Putzer’s report should have been discussed publicly at least a month or two ago.
In voting to approve the five-month trial, commissioners including Dick Carter said issues that come up, problems that arise, and changes that should be made can all be discussed, and possibly implemented, during the trial.
Commissioner Amir Verani, the lone “no” vote on the pickleball trial, praised Putzer’s report and its data, but suggested the trial should either be delayed a month to get more information out about it, or be lengthened to also include the Hampton courts as part of the trial. Neither of those concepts received broader commission support. However, pickleball hours at the Hampton courts will be suspended during the trial period, making eight of the city’s 10 tennis courts available full-time for tennis play.
The Rec Commission plans to accept more public comments on the Beach pickleball trial at commission meetings on April 19 and on June 21. The city also plans to conduct a community survey about the trial this spring, while the trial is in progress.
At that same time, the Rec Commission will consider all the feedback received, examine court use patterns and demand for pickleball court time and related pickleball activities. Based on those findings, the commission will then draft a formal recommendation to the City Council as to whether the Beach courts should ultimately be striped for both tennis and pickleball, or for pickleball only.
The city is fielding questions about the Beach pickleball trial period – send them to BeachPickleballTrial@piedmont.ca.gov
Contact Sam Richards at email@example.com