In a Pickle

Chayo Lewis is a frequent pickleball player at the Wheeler Street Courts in Seaside, where she says she and other players have experienced repeated harassment.

It might not be the first battle of the pickleball wars in Monterey County, but it’s the first one that ended up in a courtroom, and so far the score is: Pickleball players – 1; upset neighbor – 0.

The dispute is centered around pickleball play – and players – at the Wheeler Courts in Seaside, where a pilot pickleball program launched in 2020, which allowed the courts to be used for pickleball on some days of the week. Seaside City Council made that a permanent allowable use of the courts in April.

But unlike some of the other kerfuffles surrounding pickleball in neighboring cities – Monterey, Pacific Grove – this one is not about noise. For the most part, it appears to be about parking along Wheeler and Carson streets, and there is one neighbor in particular who has not taken kindly to it.

On Nov. 4, Sung Choi, whose house on Wheeler Street is just downhill from the courts, filed an application for a restraining order against Marina resident Chayo Lewis, who is among frequent pickleball players. In it, Choi alleges Lewis threatened to ram him with her vehicle, that she threatened to expose herself to him, that she directed a racial slur at him and that, after she picked a peach off a tree next to the sidewalk in front of Choi’s house – but outside his fence line – he told her not to pick fruit off the tree and that after he did so, she threatened to throw the pit at him.

Aside from picking fruit off the tree, which Lewis believes to be in the public right of way, she categorically denies all the allegations, and on Nov. 21, she filed for a restraining order against Choi, alleging he stalks and records players, and also incites arguments, “especially with women pickleball players.” It also states Choi is “very explosive.”

Whether or not her allegations are true, Choi, at a Seaside Parks and Rec Commission meeting last spring, yelled at commissioners about his grievances. The Weekly was also provided with a rage-filled voicemail Choi left last year for former Seaside councilmember Jason Campbell, berating him for approving the pickleball pilot program.

Both Choi’s and Lewis’ applications were initially granted on a temporary basis, with a court hearing to determine whether to issue a longer-lasting restraining order. The first hearing on the matter was held Nov. 23, just a few days after Lewis filed her restraining order. That matter was continued to Dec. 8, when Monterey County Superior Court Judge Julie Culver directed the two parties to enter into mediation, provided for free by the nonprofit Mandell Gisnet Center.

Culver removed the temporary restraining order against Lewis, but extended the order against Choi. He is required to stay 100 yards away from Lewis, and other pickleball players on the court.

There were about 20 pickleball players in the courtroom to support Lewis at both hearings. After the first, one of them said in the courtroom hallway, “You come after one of us, you come after all of us.”

Outside the courthouse, Choi was conciliatory, and said he wanted to come to a peaceable solution to the matter, but in a later conversation over the phone, suggested that a racial, ageist or gender bias might be working against him.

A date for the mediation has not yet been set.

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