Commission Approves Conceptual Designs for Pickleball Courts

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An artist’s rendering of the proposed pickleball courts at Bonita Canyon Sports Park that Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission discussed Tuesday. — Photo courtesy the city of Newport Beach ©
An artist’s rendering of the proposed pickleball courts at Bonita Canyon Sports Park that Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission discussed Tuesday.
— Photo courtesy the city of Newport Beach ©

Pickleball will soon be coming to Bonita Canyon Sports Park.

The Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission reviewed a sound study and unanimously approved 6-0 the conceptual designs for the proposed pickleball courts at the park during a meeting Tuesday. Commissioner Ray Englebrecht was absent.

About 45 people attended the meeting, nearly all of them interested in the item about the pickleball courts.  

Longtime resident and avid Pickleball player Ken Krum first tried pickleball during the city’s trial program.

“It’s been a life-changing experience for me to play that game,” Krum said.

He encouraged the Commission to move forward with the plans so they can share the game with more people.

Newport Beach Recreation Manager Justin Schmillen gave a short presentation. Funding in the amount of $500,000 is budgeted for final design and construction of four pickelball courts, according to the staff report.

Gary Hardesty, director of Sound Media Fusion, also reported on his findings for the noise study.

“The noise, in my opinion, from the new courts will not by heard at the homes,” Hardesty said.

The large grass area helps decrease the overall noise, he explained. The lack of nearby structures close to the court help ensure that the noise is not reflected into the housing area, he added. There is also significant “masking” noise from the nearby MacArthur Drive.

About 90 feet away, they could hear the players and noted noise at an average of 60 dba over five, 10 and 15 minute periods. Street noise from MacArthur Drive completely dominated at a testing location about 135 feet away from the courts.

Council chambers with nobody speaking, air slightly humming and projector on, is about 53 decibels, Hardesty said as an example.

They also tested noise levels in the back yards of homes 473 and 582 feet from the test site and recorded 53 dba, primarily from the nearby tennis courts and street traffic. No pickle ball noise could be heard, Hardesty said. At one home the pool pump was the predominant noise source.

There is little to no noise from the courts at 300 feet away, Hardesty said.

If further mitigation was necessary, which neither Hardesty nor staff felt would be necessary, acoustic blankets, which would basically “completely eliminate” any noise from the courts.

On one side of the blanket is material that absorbs sounds, while the other side blocks sound, Hardesty explained. They are extremely effective, so much so they are used by NASA to mitigate noise from a space shuttle, he added.

A high, rough estimate, the blankets would likely cost less than $15,000, Hardesty noted. They are weather-proof and include fire-retardant

There is a cost associated, can be somewhat unsightly and it’s important to keep a breeze coming through to keep the courts cool, Recreation & Senior Services Director Laura Detweiler explained.

Commissioners did approve staff’s recommendation to increase the fence height to 10 feet and add hedges to further screen the sound from the courts.

Opponents have previously said that it’s not the literal decibel of noise, it’s that the sound of the game is “uniquely annoying,”

The issue also came up quickly and residents have not had enough time, said local resident Polly Verfaillie, who lives about 300 yards from the proposed courts.

“We were all very shocked when this happened,” Verfaillie said.

Verfaillie suggested using a vacant property across the parking lot owned by AT&T.

“I don’t see why we can’t at least discuss that,” Verfaillie said. “I think it would be a win-win situation for everybody.”

City staff conducted an extensive search for a location for the courts, Schmillen said. Bonita Sports Canyon Park West provided the optimal site, he added.

Staff looked into possibly using AT&T’s vacant property to the north of the park.

Since it’s not city property it would cost millions to purchase the land, Detweiler explained at a PB&R meeting in September. It would also cost more to level the land to make it conducive for pickleball courts, she added.

“It would be quite costly for us to endeavor that property, if, in fact, it were available,” Detweiler previously said.

Verfaillie also suggested possibly putting the pickleball courts where the current basketball courts are, which get used very rarely, she said. Pushing them back even a little bit more would make a difference, she said.

“We’re not objecting to pickleball courts, obviously we don’t want them behind our houses so that we can hear them morning, noon and night, but I think there are some compromises that we’d like to discuss,” Verfaillie said.

A few ideas she mentioned, include a later start time, an online scheduling system to help reduce the long lines of people waiting around, and only two courts instead of four. Verfaillie also supported the idea of using the acoustic blankets.

“If we had known this was going to be happening, we probably wouldn’t have bought our house,” Verfaillie said. “It’s really a tough situation for us homeowners.”

The city has “bent over backward” to hire a noise consultant to make sure the neighbors are comfortable and to take extra measures to mitigate any noise, said Commissioner Tom Anderson.

“For the residents that are opposing it, I think the fear is somewhat unfounded,” Anderson said. “The amount of noise is almost absurd how low it is.”

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