Concerns, comments and ideas from both sides of the net were discussed this week during a meeting about the potential pickleball courts at Bonita Canyon Sports Park.
The Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission reviewed and provided feedback about the proposed permanent pickleball courts during a meeting Tuesday.
About 45 people attended the meeting, with half of them interested in the pickleball courts issue.
Newport Beach Recreation Manager Justin Schmillen gave a short presentation.
The city held a pickleball demo day in June 2013 that was well received by the approximately 70 people who attended. Following the success of that event, a “drop-in” pickleball program was started in September 2013 at the Newport Coast Community Center.
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, PB&R approved for duel striping for four courts on one tennis courts at San Joaquin.
In August 2015, PB&R recommended – and City Council approved in June – the conceptual design for the Bonita Canyon courts.
Noise was the biggest concern expressed by commissioners and public opponents. 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, Schmillen explained. The residual sound is below the city’s Municipal Code noise criteria (sound over 55 decibels for 15 consecutive minutes).
The 55 decibel limit is very low, commented Commissioner Tom Anderson. It’s so quiet, he’s unsure how the noise could actually be mitigated any further.
“It’s almost nothing,” Anderson said, likening it’s typical conversation in a room.
A quieter ball was used for the testing, Schmillen explained. Players have been using the quieter ball for regular games and have given positive feedback, he added. The specific type of ball they’ve been using is a good balance between playability and sound, Schmillen noted.
Commissioners directed staff to conduct sound tests using a regular ball for comparison.
But the issue is really about the particular sound the ball hitting the paddle creates, not the overall noise, Anderson concluded.
“The issue is the sound itself is somewhat irritating,” Anderson said, agreeing with a comment raised during public comment.
It’s not just the literal decibel of noise, it’s that the sound of the game is “uniquely annoying,” said nearby resident Paul Casey.
There are a lot of issues with the sound from the courts, he said, including that the city can’t monitor and enforce players to use the quieter ball.
“It’s a great idea for the city to try and support this type of use, but this is a totally inappropriate location,” Casey said.
Chris Edmonds, another local neighbor, said he had young kids – as do many other people in the neighborhood, another resident pointed out – who nap during the day and the noise from the pickleball courts would likely disturb them.
Soccer whistles and traffic noise from the road would be much louder and more of an issue, Anderson noted.
Edmonds played a sound clip of pickleball play as a demonstration for the commission.
“That’s not a sound I’d like to have in my backyard,” he said.
Pickleball player Bob Mulvihill noted that the clip sounded like an indoor court (which would amplify the sound because of the echo).
There was also some disagreement among speakers about how far away the sound of pickleball can be heard. While one player said he could not hear it until he was about 100 feet away from the court, another resident said the sound travels much further than 300 feet, the distance between the proposed courts and the nearest house.
In another visual demonstration, one public speaker showed the commissioners the actual ball they used during a pickleball game. It’s not much heavier than a whiffle ball, he said. It’s not very loud and there is a demand for pickleball courts in Newport Beach, supporters argued.
“(Pickleball), it’s changed my life 100 percent,” said an avid player, Ken Krum. “I’m a different kind of guy.”
Concerns were also raised on the side of the pickleball players, including that the trees were too close to the courts. The playing area needs to be clean of debris for safety, several people mentioned. A few also suggested bushes and shrubbery instead of additional trees to help dampen the sound.
“(Trees) are a vulnerability to our wonderful court opportunities,” Krum said.
Commissioner Ron Cole suggested planting more trees and shrubbery as noise preventative measures.
“I think that we should probably do as much as we can for those residents in those houses there… to try to eliminate as much of the noise as possible,” Cole said.
He also directed staff to consider also installing sound dampening material.
Construction of the courts could be completed as early as spring 2017.