Turf war heating up between tennis, pickleball in San Diego

Turf war heating up between tennis, pickleball in San Diego

A battle between tennis and pickleball players over scarce parkland in San Diego has escalated into shouting matches at crowded public hearings, closed-door meetings at City Hall and accusations of unethical behavior by both sides.

City officials are calling in national experts to help navigate the conflict between the two racket sports, which have battled each other in city after city because they need the same kind of paved hardscape for their courts.

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Supporters of pickleball — an popular combination of tennis, pingpong and badminton — say that the pingdwindling popularity of tennis should prompt the city to quickly convert at least some of its roughly 150 public tennis courts to pickleball.

Two of those supporters paid to have drones fly over the Peninsula Tennis Club in Point Loma to show that the 12 courts there don’t get much use, contending that the Peninsula club should be converted into a central pickleball facility.
Tennis supporters say their sport is increasing in popularity instead of decreasing, and that local pickleball supporters are engaging in a campaign of lies and distortions in hopes of gaining control of the Peninsula club.

The tennis supporters agree San Diego needs more space for pickleball — the city has zero dedicated courts. But they contend taking courts away from tennis isn’t the answer, suggesting the city create more hardscape so it can add pickleball courts without affecting tennis.

“Why would you cannibalize and penalize tennis because a new sport has come along,” said John Broderick, president of the San Diego District Tennis Association. “They are going after tennis because it’s the easiest, cheapest way to go.”

The pickleball supporters say city officials are showing favoritism toward tennis, contending that some wealthy local tennis players have undue influence at City Hall.

“The city appears to be in bed with tennis, protecting them at every turn,” said Stefan Boyland, part of a duo proposing the central pickleball facility in Point Loma. “And they told us directly that our proposal won’t seriously be considered.”

Jim Griswold hits a shot while playing pickleball at Gershwin Park in Clairemont.

Jim Griswold hits a shot while playing pickleball at Gershwin Park in Clairemont.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

City officials deny favoring tennis and say they are trying to navigate a middle ground, restriping some public tennis courts to make them suitable for both sports and exploring ways to create a central pickleball facility without converting the Peninsula club.

“Some in the pickleball community kind of view tennis as the enemy and some in the tennis community view pickleball as the enemy,” said Andy Field, the city’s director of parks and recreation. “We’re trying to carve the middle pathway to give both sports what they need, while not disenfranchising any sport from having access to usable space.”

Field says he’s willing to consider converting part of the Peninsula into a central pickleball facility, or possibly laying hardscape a few hundred yards away for a totally new central facility. But that second option could take several years.

Field says restriping is also part of the solution, noting basketball courts have been restriped in addition to tennis courts and that city officials plan to convert a shuffleboard court at Memorial Park in Logan Heights into pickleball courts.

“We want to try to find all of the easy wins first by converting as many of the underutilized hardcourts as we can,” Field said last week.

Pickleball restriping has either happened or will happen soon at the La Jolla Recreation Center, Standley Recreation Center in University City, Kearny Mesa Recreation Center and Gershwin Park in Clairemont.

The city is also exploring the addition of pickleball courts on some school campuses, including Standley Middle School and Marston Middle School, Field said.

Restriping efforts often frustrate tennis supporters, who say restriped courts are a visually unappealing maze of lines that make it harder to attract regional tournaments and the crucial cash they bring to nonprofit tennis clubs.

And restriping is also not fully embraced by many supporters of pickleball, who prefer pickleball-only courts.

Pickleball courts on tennis court diagram

City officials say they are reluctant to begin converting any of the city’s 12 tennis complexes, which are each run by nonprofit groups that have been in place for many years.

“The city is not providing special or preferential treatment to this community, but rather is honoring the positive relationship we’ve built over the years with our local nonprofits that provide tennis programming to the public,” Field said.

But Field said he also plans to learn more about the operations of the clubs, how well-used their courts are, and the financial challenges they face. The goal, he said, is to make smart decisions about how to handle scarce city resources.

To help, Field is scheduled to meet soon with a national expert on turbulence between pickleball and tennis: Jodie Adams, a fellow with the American Academy of Parks and Recreation Administrators based at Missouri State University.

“She is a person who understands the pickleball and tennis factions and has worked on trying to understand how to make both sports thrive in cities where there is limited access to hardcourts,” Field said.

“We are eager to get some assistance from her. We think she’s going to bring a better understanding of how other jurisdictions have handled it.”

Examples of the expertise Field hopes to get from Adams include specifics about what is truly essential to tennis clubs.

“She’ll be able to verify for us whether it’s true that you need six courts in order to run a tournament,” he said. “Is it true that pickleball must never be co-striped with tennis in a tournament situation? Are there ways to do the striping differently to make it a little bit less obstructive for play?”

Adams might also help the city tone down the acrimony and accusations this spring between pickleball and tennis supporters.

Hundreds of supporters of both sports have flooded meetings of the Mission Bay Park Committee, the Ocean Beach Planning Board and the city’s Parks and Recreation Board.

Both sides have also sponsored petition drives that have netted hundreds of signatures each.

And Mayor Todd Gloria’s staff has held closed-door meetings with both sides to help find peaceful solutions to the conflict. But the conflict persists.

People play pickleball at Gershwin Park in Clairemont on Thursday, June 16, 2022 in San Diego, CA.

People play pickleball at Gershwin Park in Clairemont on Thursday, June 16, 2022 in San Diego, CA. New striping allows for four pickleball courts on one tennis court.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Boyland, the pickleball supporter proposing the central facility in Point Loma, said city officials have an obligation to reallocate scarce resources like parkland when a new sport is highly popular and the sport it would replace is dwindling in popularity. He stressed that nonprofit tennis clubs pay no rent to the city.

“We want to fairly compete for these no-rent permits,” he said. “If we were ever lucky enough to get one, we’d treat it as a privilege. The tennis clubs that have been around for 50 years feel entitled — they look at the land as ‘theirs.’”

Boyland said he also uncovered during his investigation of Peninsula that the club’s lease expired more than three years ago. He also alleges the club allows teachers-for-hire tennis, which violates city rules that permit holders need express permission to allow private entities to operate on-site.

Field said a renewal of the Peninsula lease was being negotiated when the pandemic began and that negotiations with the tennis club resumed recently. Boyland said the expiration of the lease should prompt an open competition for the site.

On the teacher-for-hire claims, Field said “the city has been made aware of this and is research to determine if the accus are accurate and if any corrective steps need to be taken.”

Tennis supporters have their own complaints about Boyland and his partner, Mike Shinzaki.

Broderick said the duo has repeatedly distorted facts to stir up their supporters, such as claiming San Diego has 550 public courts when the number is really about 150 because 400 of the courts are controlled by or community colleges.

He also complained that the duo is highly impatient, contending that has prompted them to put undue pressure on city Peninsula officials and community leaders to rapidly transform into a pickleball hub.

Broderick also denied that tennis supporters have more clout at City Hall than any other group.

“I’ve never met with the city before this — I never knew when I took over this position that I would have to deal with anything like this,” he said, contending tennis clubs have steered clear of politics until the recent attacks from pickleball supporters. “If someone supporting tennis has power at City Hall, it ain’t me and I’m the one who’s leading the charge.”

Field said he expects to have a more comprehensive game plan for pickleball after meeting with Adams, the national expert.

‘We’re excited to have a better roadmap soon,’ he said. “We take pickleball seriously. We want there to be places to play and we’ve demonstrated that.”

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