Pickleball Boom Puts City In A Pickle With Players and NeighborsNov 03, 2022 12:46PM ● By Pam Kessler
Played outdoors on modified tennis courts, the badminton-ping pong-tennis hybrid is arguably the fastest growing sport in America, with nearly five million active players. It’s easy on the knees—less running than tennis—intensely social and wildly popular among the 50+ crowd. Pickleball’s oversized paddles make the game easy to learn and improve at rapidly. And with annual club membership dues between $15-$20, it’s as easy on the wallet as it is on the body.
Rossmoor resident Bill Dougherty started Walnut Creek’s first club in 2009. At the time, the Rossmoor Pickleball Club included non-residents, but as enthusiasm for the game—and the number of players—grew, in 2014 the Walnut Creek Pickleball Club was formed. After a short stint at Tice Valley Gym, the club relocated outdoors to Rudgear Park on the tennis courts off Dapplegray Lane, where up to 32 people can play at one time.
FASTEST GROWING SPORT
“It’s a really fun and social game,” said Walnut Creek Pickleball Club President Tony Parisi. “We have almost 700 members in the club now from all over the East Bay. I live in San Ramon, but play in Walnut Creek, Livermore, Danville, Lafayette, and even Fremont. It's very common among competitive players to travel for games. To keep up with the demand, cities across the Bay Area are building more courts.”
“It’s more than just a game, its more than just a sport, it’s a community,” said Cindy Gershen who plays in the morning with friends, then joins her grandchildren in the afternoon. “It has no age barrier, it has no color, it’s something everyone can do.”
Pickleball’s popularity surged during the pandemic when isolated adults found an outlet on the courts for exercise and interaction. But the sport’s growth is not without backlash. Pushback is exploding from neighbors driven to distraction by the constant sound of plastic balls connecting with racquets on the courts.
“The pop-pop-pop sound is unending,” explained one Dapplegray Lane resident who asked to remain unnamed. “The city and club need to find a new location for pickleball games. They play seven days a week from 8am to 8pm, it’s destroying our quality of life.” Others describe the endless stream of people, parked cars, blocked garbage cans, and even lost real estate deals.
Pickleball is indeed noisy—eight times the loudness of typical neighborhood background noise, according to multiple research studies. Tennis balls and rackets are made of soft materials like rubber, felt and nylon, while pickleball equipment is made of hard plastic.
Cities like Walnut Creek are in a ‘pickle’ over how to balance the recreational benefits of the sport with the barrage of complaints from impacted homeowners. It reached a crescendo on October 8 at the City Council meeting when over 100 members of the Walnut Creek Pickleball Club packed the chamber to express their displeasure with the Park & Recreation Department’s proposal to move the games to Tice Valley Gym, until a new pickleball location was identified.
"Short term, we have asked the pickleball club to collaborate with the Dapplegray residents to find solutions to noise, parking, and general nuisances," said Kevin Safine, Director of Arts & Recreation at City of Walnut Creek. "City staff will also recommend that the Park, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Commission approve the creation of a task force to identify a long term solution to where pickleball courts should be located.
Walnut Creek Pickleball is advocating for solutions that do not include moving the games—sound blocks on fencing, noise-reducing balls and paddles, and controls over hours of play. But that’s probably not enough for neighbors on Dapplegray who want the club permanently moved to another city park.
According to Safine, Walnut Creek's city engineering department estimates the cost to convert an existing tennis court to four pickleball courts with sealing, painting, and installing new net posts at $36,000; to resurface an existing tennis court and build a new overlay, surfacing, and net posts for four new pickleball courts on site at $110,000; and construct four new pickleball courts at a new location at $380,000. The PROS Commission is expected to review options at their December 5, 2022 meeting.