Paul's Note - January 31, 2020

The commission that oversees the parks bond program made an important decision on Monday night for those of you that play either tennis or pickleball.

First, I want to give you a bit of background. In 2018, you and your neighbors passed Proposition 407, which authorized the sale of $225 million of bonds to fund parks and trail projects throughout the city. $5.5 million of that is set to be spent at Ft. Lowell, while $13.9 million will be spent at Udall Park.

Among those projects was tennis court resurfacing at Udall Park and conversion of the courts at Ft. Lowell to pickleball.

Pickleball is a fast growing sport and I heard from pickleball enthusiasts that wanted more places to play pickelball in town. Pickleball plays on a smaller surface than tennis, and it doesn’t take much to convert a court from one sport to another. An underused tennis court can be made into four pickleball courts without much expense. This seemed like a win-win.

Well, my office started hearing from people. First off, were residents near the proposed pickleball courts who were concerned about noise. A tennis racquet hitting a ball might make a muffled thwop, but pickleball uses a solid paddle and the ball is made of plastic. It sounds more like ping-pong than tennis, racquetball or badminton. Add to that the fact that eight players will be playing on a court that used to accommodate only two.

My staff and I made a visit to Ft. Lowell park and were given a demonstration of the noise difference. Yes, it was a potential problem.

The next group that approached us was some tennis enthusiasts that organized themselves into a crew called “The Racqueteers.” Their concern was that the courts at Udall were in such bad shape that they didn’t feel comfortable using them (Parks and Recreation staff had, in fact, closed one due to a cracked surface), so they needed the Ft. Lowell courts. Sure, plans were in place to fix the courts at Udall, but how long would they have to wait?

The problem was that the plans for Udall and Ft. Lowell were already part of a bond package passed by voters. That isn’t something we can, or should, change willy-nilly. I wanted to make sure that whatever solution we came up with was something with support from park users, neighbors and enthusiasts of both sports.

I had a meeting at my office last year that included the Friends of Ft. Lowell, the Racqueteers, the local chapter of the American Pickleball Association and Parks and Recreation. I need to give credit to Brent Dennis, our Parks Director (he calls it “The Department of Fun”) for suggesting a solution: pickleball at Udall, keep tennis at Ft. Lowell.

The group liked the idea. The Udall courts are further from surrounding neighborhoods and we were able to move up repairs on them.

Because it was a bond item, it still needed approval from the Parks and Connections Bond Oversight Commission, but since it still meets the intent of both identified bond projects and is within the same budget, it doesn’t require additional Mayor and Council action.

I thank everyone who contacted my office while we were working through this. It is good to see people getting involved, and more importantly having that involvement result in a solution.

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The mayor and council retreat took place I wrote a little about last week took place on Tuesday. It was a great discussion and I’m glad that Mayor Romero took the leadership to put it together. I’ll write a little more about what came out of it next week.