2017-08-11 / Community

Park district in a pickle over tennis courts

Rivalry brewing between sport groups
By Hector Gonzalez


BATTLE FOR SPACE—The tennis courts at Rancho Simi Community Park stand empty Wednesday afternoon. The Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District is considering converting four of the eight courts at the Royal Avenue park into permanent pickleball courts, but the plan has been met with criticism from local tennis players. 
RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers BATTLE FOR SPACE—The tennis courts at Rancho Simi Community Park stand empty Wednesday afternoon. The Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District is considering converting four of the eight courts at the Royal Avenue park into permanent pickleball courts, but the plan has been met with criticism from local tennis players. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers A solitary crow glided down from its spot atop a tree at Rancho Simi Community Park and landed in an empty tennis court next to the one where Nelson Vinson was lobbing balls to his 14-year-old son, Luis Antonio.

It was a little past 8 on a Tuesday morning and the pair was alone on the courts at the “Duck Park” on Royal Avenue. At first glance, the scene seemed to confirm Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District officials’ contention that the eight tennis courts at the popular community park are vastly underused.

“We did two surveys in 2016, and we could never find more than four of the courts being used at one time,” RSRPD recreation director Doug Gale told the Simi Valley Acorn.

Now, based on those survey results, officials are considering converting four of the tennis courts at Rancho Simi Community Park into 12 permanent pickleball courts in order to accommodate local pickleball players clamoring for more space.

But looks can be deceiving, Vinson said Tuesday.

“There actually are a lot of us,” said the Simi Valley resident, who belongs to the Ventura County league of the United States Tennis Association. “We hold our tournaments here every Saturday. That’s when you’ll see a lot of us out here. We don’t want to lose this space.”

Conversion concept

The dispute that’s pitting tennis players against pickleballers over precious court space has district officials in a bit of a pickle. At its July 6 meeting, the RSRPD board of directors heard from several players on both sides, but took no action. District Manager Larry Peterson said he would bring the issue to the RSRPD’s advance planning committee for further study.

No date for that meeting had been set as of Thursday, but Peterson said he expected to meet in the next 30 days with the committee, which is a standing committee made up of two board members.

Several public meetings would be held before the board would take action on any court conversion options, Peterson told the Simi Valley Acorn on Thursday. A decision by the board on a final conversion plan is “way down the road,” he said.

As part of its conversion concept plan, the district is looking at striking a deal with the Simi Valley Unified School District to open up to the public six tennis courts at Royal High School.

“We would use them for scheduled tennis matches and lessons,” Gale said.

In 2003, the district paid SVUSD nearly $24,000 to install electrical outlets for future lights at the high school’s tennis courts. The payment came with an understanding that the park district would someday be allowed to use the tennis courts for public play nights and weekends once the new lights were installed, Gale said.

The installation of lights hasn’t happened yet, but Gale said he plans to meet with SVUSD officials later this month to discuss the matter.

The lights were never installed at the Royal High courts because there was never a big demand for night play before, Peterson said.

In 2015, park officials formed a similar shared-use agreement with SVUSD to allow the public to use 12 new pickleball courts at Sinaloa Middle School, with RSRPD taking responsibility for supervising the courts.

Converting four tennis courts at Rancho Simi Community Park, Gale said, would benefit players of both groups because it would eliminate the need for tennis players at Rancho Tapo Community Park, also known as Lemon Park, to share those tennis courts with pickleball players. 

Converting the Rancho Simi courts into permanent pickleball courts will give those players more room to play, while tennis players will get six new courts to use on evenings and weekends at Royal High once the lights go in, Gale said.

Right now, however, the plan “depends very much” on working things out with Royal High School, Gale said.

Should the installation of lights and the conversion happen, the total number of lighted tennis courts owned and operated by the park district in Simi Valley would be 14, down from 17, and the total lighted pickleball courts would be 18, according to a July 6 park district staff report.

Dueling sides

The local popularity of pickleball, which combines a badminton net with a whiffle ball that is smacked using oversize pingpong paddles, could put Simi Valley on the map as the “pickleball capital of the state,” attracting large tournament events to the city, resident Tom Fuhrman told board members in July.

On the other hand, California Lutheran University tennis coach Mike Gennette, who is working to build up the local tennis scene in Simi, told board members the district should simply build additional pickleball courts and leave the existing tennis courts alone.

But building new pickleball courts “is a lot of money,” Gale said Wednesday.

Glen Suffern, captain of one of the county tennis league’s teams in Simi Valley, said the park district could find space for new pickleball courts at one of its existing parks.

“We want to get the park and recreation district to get some available land and build more pickleball courts,” he said.

About 100 players in the league play their tournaments at Rancho Simi Community Park.

Last year, league members paid RSRPD around $12,000 in reservation fees to use district tennis courts, he said.

“Now we have the pickleballers that want to take our tennis courts and put in permanent pickleball courts,” Suffern said. “We don’t think that’s fair. They shouldn’t take out the tennis courts that have been there for years to put in permanent pickleball courts.”

This story was updated at 10:45 a.m. Aug. 15, 2017. The original version incorrectly spelled Doug Gale's name. It also incorrectly stated that the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District is considering converting all tennis courts at Rancho Tapo Community Park into pickleball courts, which is not the case. 

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