Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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Sara Rubin here, working on practicing my pickleball skills before (hopefully) a pickleball court gets approved and built in Marina. It’s one of those local government decision-making moments that could be just a perfunctory vote on something that’s already been discussed and gone through a community input process. But given the polarizing nature of pickleball, it risks becoming a debate about a wholesome recreational activity that people love, but just as many people love to hate. 

When Marina City Council meets tonight at 6:30pm, they’ll be asked to vote on Resolution No. 2021, a concept plan for a new park at Sea Haven, a new(ish) housing development. The plan includes playground equipment, open turf, a six-hole disc golf course, a picnic area, a dog park and four pickleball courts. Council will also be asked to allocate $400,000 from the city’s park impact fee fund toward the project, to support the construction of pickleball courts. (The housing developer is putting in $3 million, which will pay for the other components; the city’s park impact fee fund, which has a balance of $5.3 million, would go to build this feature while the core park project is underway.) 

If approved, these four pickleball courts will be the first in Monterey County. (Unless there are some out there that I don’t know about, in which case they’re an incredibly well kept secret.) It’s a wildly popular sport, one that people are playing on tennis courts because there are no pickleball courts. 

Pickleball is something of a hybrid between ping-pong and tennis. The paddle is smaller than a tennis racket, the net is lower than a tennis net and the court is smaller. In other popular pickleball spots, players have marked their smaller court with tape on the tennis court surface, and bring portable nets on wheels. They’ve adapted the facilities to support their sport because there are no pickleball-specific courts. 

So what might be controversial about pickleball? For people who live near pickleball courts in Pacific Grove, Seaside and Monterey, it’s stoked rage about noise. It prompted a few letters to the editor. In one recent letter I received, a Monterey resident near Via Paraiso Park wrote that he’d gathered 100 neighbor signatures opposing a long list of elements of reserving pickleball play on the tennis court. Reasons for their opposition: “a pickleball club, primarily composed of people from outside our community, commandeering our park; the intolerable, asynchronous noise which penetrates walls and windows of nearby residents, and distracts and annoys residents utilizing the park; and use of available on-site parking by the club, denying our community members, especially families with children, easy access to our park.”

The idea that people who live near a park get to claim it as “our park” certainly isn’t a good way to start a conversation about how to balance different uses of a park, some of which are sure to irritate other park users. Thus is the nature of a public resource. 

Pickleball, played with paddles and a ball that resembles a whiffleball, is loud. So is the sound of kids joyfully playing at the park. The pickleball players aren’t stopping kids and families and neighbors from enjoying the park. In fact, I’ve been to Via Paraiso Park on a Friday afternoon when an all-ages group of pickleballers gathers for a rotating series of games, pairing beginners with seasoned pros. It’s a game that’s inclusive to people with a range of physical abilities. The players are inclusive. (They’ve recently welcomed and included me, a brand-new pickleball player with limited athletic skills and zero comprehension of the rules, patiently offering tips as I learn.) 

A designated court may help alleviate some of the grievances in other communities. Hopefully Marina says yes to building a small court to support this sport that’s been wildly popular, but wildly unsupported elsewhere. And maybe it will even give other cities a template to see how it can be done.

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