Every weekend hordes of passionate pickleballers flock to Memorial Park, but to their dismay the City’s park policies are progressively limiting their ability to play.
To the 250 or so locals who regularly enjoy the sport, the dwindling availability of pickleball courts is a big deal. The game, which is a slower and more social version of tennis, is a favorite outlet for a diverse range of residents including many elderly individuals.
There are no permanent pickleball courts in Santa Monica, however there are four tennis courts in Memorial Park that are striped for pickleball. Prior to the pandemic there were designated hours during the week when the Park Planner would set up pickleball nets on these courts, which players could come enjoy.
Since the City’s two Park Planner positions were eliminated in the pandemic budget restructuring, the nets are no longer taken out. Ho Nguyen, the pickleball ambassador for Santa Monica, has taken it upon himself to arrive at the courts at 7:30 a.m. most mornings, before they are open, and set up his own nets for the general public to use.
On the weekends he says there are well over 100 players who come together to play. However, since there are no longer designated hours for pickleball, players have to compete with tennis players for space.
“Numerous times I’ve had the tennis players tell us we’re not allowed to play there and say these are not pickleball courts,” said Nguyen. “They refuse to get off even though there is supposed to be a time limit of 35 minutes when people are waiting.”
There are tennis camps starting up this summer that will occupy three of the four pickleball compatible tennis courts in the mornings. Crossroads School and Santa Monica College both use the Memorial Park Courts for classes, which further limits their availability for pickleball.
The pickleball players said they in no way oppose having these sports activities available for local children. However, they are seeking a permanent place or time where they are guaranteed the ability to play.
They gathered 918 signatures on a petition asking the City Council to approve funding to convert the four tennis courts at Memorial Park into 16 permanent pickleball courts.
During a City Council meeting on May 25 this request was denied and the players were told that this project would be passed on to a future Park Planner, if the position is reinstated under the July budget.
Councilmembers said there is not enough funding currently available to dedicate anything to pickleball.
The players were also denied a request to have designated pickleball hours reinstated. They additionally offered to gather the money to stripe tennis courts for pickleball in other parks in the City.
“We’ve made all kinds of offers to try to keep this thing going,” said Fred Silberberg, member of the pickleball group. “The bottom line is that the City won’t agree to do anything.”
The Parks and Recreation Commissioners support giving pickleball players an opportunity to play, however City Council has maintained that changes will need to wait until there is a new Park Planner. Interim City Manager Lane Dilg has taken the same position.
Commissioner Andrew Gomez is in strong favor of working to find a faster solution. After attending a pickleball open house hosted by the local players, he has become a passionate player himself.
“I showed up on Monday and they taught me how to play and I have not missed a day since,” said Gomez. “I’m at that park for four hours a day playing pickleball.”
Gomez said that the sport is a great way to get more residents outdoors as four pickleball courts can be set up on one tennis court, allowing up to 16 players to use the space at once.