The final point for pickleball near the Port Streets was scored Tuesday night as Newport Beach City Council approved construction of four courts at Bonita Canyon Sports Park.
Council unanimously awarded the contract to Green Giant Landscape Inc., the lowest bidder of seven companies for the project, for $531,100 to construct four courts at the west end of the park.
Adding in the construction contingency, printing, survey, testing, and inspection costs, the total project cost will round out to approximately $625,000. The staff report detailed that the amount would be split about 50/50 between the general fund and park fees, but Councilman Will O’Neill made a motion that included the funding come entirely from park fees, which staff confirmed was adequate to cover the project.
Park fees are “collected by the city from persons or entities who subdivide properties for the purpose of developing or rehabilitating park, open space or recreational facilities,” according to the staff report.
“It is a hefty amount, but the nice thing about it is we have this in a restricted fund,” meant for these type of projects, O’Neill explained.
Construction is scheduled to start around the first part of June and finish by September.
“I love the fact that we’re talking about improving parks,” O’Neill said.
It’s a good opportunity for a lot of people, he added. He usually talks about parks from the perspective of having young children who use them, but this time it’s from the perspective of having older parents who play pickleball, O’Neill said.
Pickleball is a relatively new sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong. A demonstration of the game was set up in the community room prior to Tuesday’s Council meeting. Councilman Scott Peotter played pickleball for the first time during the demonstration on Tuesday.
“It’s fun,” Peotter concluded. “I think [new dedicated courts] will be great. Can’t wait to see it happen.”
There have been requests from residents for dedicated pickleball courts in Newport Beach for some time, said Recreation and Senior Services Director Laura Detweiler. Even with the limited facilities, the city has been able to introduce the sport to the community, she added.
The city held a pickleball demo day in June 2013 that was well received by the approximately 75 people who attended the very first day. Following the success of that event, a “drop-in” pickleball program was started in September 2013 at the Newport Coast Community Center.
It’s grown in large increments and at a very fast pace since then, Detweiler said.
Newport Beach began a pilot program of shared use lines (displaying both pickleball and tennis lines) at San Joaquin Tennis Courts between February and June 2014. Based off the feedback from the pilot program, the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission approved duel striping for four courts at San Joaquin.
Staff soon began searching for spots to place dedicated pickleball courts. Bonita Canyon was chosen because of its location, distance to residences, and the parking and other infrastructure was already in place.
In August 2015, PB&R recommended – and City Council later approved in June – the conceptual design for the Bonita Canyon courts.
Last year, the city tracked usage and found that approximately 19 players used the San Joaquin courts every day. More recently the average has been closer to about 29 daily players, Detweiler noted.
“So we knew we were on to something, we knew it was going to be popular,” Detweiler said, “but we had no idea how it would actually explode into the sport it is today.”
Noise was the biggest concern expressed by PB&R commissioners and public opponents during the process. So staff conducted sound testing during the busy weekday mornings, to re-create the high use seen during the drop-in program. Findings from the tests showed low decibel sound levels. The residual sound is below the city’s Municipal Code noise criteria.
In September, after concerns were raised by neighbors about the “uniquely annoying” sound of the ball and noting that they might be disturbed by the pickleball play during the day, PB&R commissioners directed staff to consider noise preventative measures and sound dampening materials, as well as hire a consultant to conduct an independent noise study.
Gary Hardesty, director of Sound Media Fusion, reported his findings about the noise study to PB&R in December.
“The noise, in my opinion, from the new courts will not by heard at the homes,” Hardesty said at the time.
Street noise from MacArthur Drive completely dominated some of the testing locations and Hardesty recorded little to no sound from the courts. Noise levels in the back yards of nearby homes recorded 53 dba, or approximately the same level as council chambers with nobody speaking, air slightly humming and the projector on, Hardesty said as an example.
The Commission unanimously approved moving forward with the project in December, along with an increase to the fence height to 10 feet and adding hedges to further screen the sound from the courts.
“I personally stood in those back yards and could not hear the play take place,” Detweiler said on Tuesday.
There were no public commenters on Tuesday, but pickleball players previously spoke up about their dedication to the sport, with one calling it “life-changing.”
Councilman Brad Avery, whose barber is a “ferocious pickleballer,” was on board with permanently adding the courts to the city park.
“This is going to be a well-used section of real estate,” Avery said. “It’s of great value for our residents and visitors.”