Pickleball saga at Robb Field continues at Mission Bay Park Committee

By Geoff Page

The saga of Pickleball’s attempt to find a home in Robb Field continued on Tuesday, Nov. 1, with an appearance before the Mission Bay Park Committee at the Santa Clara Recreation Center in Mission Beach.

Stephan Boyland and Mike Shinzaki pitched on behalf of the San Diego Pickleball Association. The field involved three possible options for having pickleball at Robb Field.

#1 – Share the 12 existing tennis courts. There are six courts in one fenced compound and six in another. Pickleball would like to have six of the 12 courts.

#2 – Take 6 of 12 courts while building new replacement tennis courts somewhere nearby.

#3 – Build new pickleball fields somewhere in Robb Field.

Pickleball players prefer option #1 because they could get the game played quickly. Converting tennis courts to pickleball courts mainly involves transplanting and new nets. Option #2 was a close second as it would also allow them to get people into play quickly.

Option 3 was the least favorable option as it would take several years to complete the design, obtain permits and build.

Boyland and Shinzaki have been promoting pickleball for some time. The OB planning board voted in favor of a motion to let pickleball have four of the 12 courts for a one-year trial period at its meeting on March 2 this year. The first motion to give them six courts failed with a tie vote of 6 to 6.

The OBPB vote would require pickleballers to build a fence within the existing enclosure to enclose two tennis courts, which seemed impractical. The council stressed that it had no jurisdiction over Robb Field as it is part of Mission Bay Park. It was just a recommendation.

Regardless of the practicality, Boyland brought it up to show there was some support for pickleball in OB. OBPB President Andrea Schlageter attended the meeting and said the board voted to recommend the four tribunals. Schlageter said their motion only passed by a 7-5 vote, indicating ambivalence about the idea.

There is a major development in the history of pickleball that people may not be aware of. When they came before the OBPB, they were a for-profit company. This caused them problems because the Point Loma Tennis Club, which has run the courts for years, is a non-profit organization.

For-profit vs. not-for-profit was not a good optic for pickleballers. They solved this problem by becoming a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, The Pickleball Association of San Diego, a public benefit corporation. The original filing date was September 13, 2022. This change will mute much of the previous opposition.

Even with the move to nonprofit status, Boyland and Shinzaki said they were still committed to a number of improvements they would fund, without public funds, such as a new clubhouse. The existing facility is a very old mobile modular building that could be upgraded or replaced.

The presentation included a lot of information that most people know by now, such as the explosive popularity of pickleball. There are few places to gamble in the county and only one place in the city. The demand is there now for pickleball courts.

Robb Field has a number of advantages for pickleball, including ample parking and seclusion. Pickleball is a very noisy sport and complaints about it across the country can be found when these courts are near homes. Robb Field Courts are not located near residences.

It seems the effort to move some of the existing courts away from tennis may have lit the proverbial fire under the tennis cluster. It was mentioned that the tennis group came before the park committee in October with a presentation.

In the minutes of the October 4 committee meeting, under “Points of Information,” read this:

Peninsula Tennis Club Concept Plan – Todd Sprague Peninsula Tennis Club, President of the San Diego District Tennis Association is proposing a concept to expand the footprint of the Peninsula Tennis Club’s (PTC) 12 tennis courts with funding private to allow normal spacing between courts, adding Padel Courts to the PTC and updating the current clubhouse.

Sprague also generously allowed there to be a stand-alone pickleball facility elsewhere at Robb Field built with private money. It wasn’t just no to pickleball, it was no. This seemed to be exemplified by the inclusion in the PTC plan of new facilities for a different “Patel” type sport.

Here is a description of “Padel” from Wikipedia:

Padel is a racket sport that is usually played in doubles on an enclosed court slightly smaller than a doubles tennis court. The scoring is the same as in normal tennis, and the balls used are similar but with a little less pressure. The main differences are that the court has walls and the balls can be played in the same way as in the game of squash and that strong, unstringed bats are used.

So instead of a few pickleball courts, the tennis club wants to build something for a sport this writer had to research.

The tennis club’s plans are outlined and described in an October 17, 2022 press release from Sprague.

Curiously, there was no public opposition to the pickleball proposals. Six people spoke and all were for pickleball. Given the controversy over the abandonment of tennis facilities for pickleball, some opposition is to be expected.

Comments from committee members varied. Gio Ingolia called it “land grabbing”. Others were concerned about the process of deciding who should be given the right to manage existing facilities. There was no enthusiasm to support the takeover of existing facilities at Robb Field.

Ultimately, the committee was sympathetic to the pickleballer cause, but believed that a process should be followed for the facilities, including opening them up to proposals from other interested parties. The committee did not consider it appropriate for them to support an entity over other possible aspirants.

The motion that eventually passed was non-binding, to say the least. The committee voted to support hosting pickleball “somewhere in Mission Bay Park” and for the city to decide who would be chosen to operate it and where it would be located. It wasn’t something that would help pickleball fans anytime soon.

For more information on the organization of pickleball, go here

Rhodes dusty park

During the park committee meeting, a budget item interested OB. The Mission Bay Park Improvement Fund Oversight Committee has sought approval to allocate $10,807,066.53 to fund a series of projects.

Dusty Rhodes Park was to receive 20% of the total allocation or $2,215,000. Three posts are budgeted. The first was $444,000 for restrooms, which have been euphemistically rebranded as “sanitary blocks” in recent years. The second item was $327,000 for improving parking lots. The third item was $1,444,000 for a playground.

For more information, contact Gio Ingolia at [email protected]

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