The air was charged with athletic energy as pickleball enthusiasts made their case for more pickleball courts in Visalia. Approximately 60 pickle ball players and their friends attended the August 15 Visalia City Council public hearing concerning resurfacing two of the eight Plaza Park tennis courts into pickle ball courts.
After an hour of lively debate, the vote was 5-0 in favor of converting the tennis courts into eight permanent pickle ball courts. The city council vote overturns the Parks and Recreation Commission’s vote that did not approve of the conversion.
The request came from a group called Pickleball Visalia that currently has 277 members but grows weekly. There are two pickleball courts at Recreation Park, but the group has outgrown them and the courts are not lighted. Currently there are eight temporary pickle ball courts at Plaza Park, but the nets are locked up and few have the key. Pickleball Visalia requested that the city council overturn the Park and Recreation vote and resurface courts number seven and eight as permanent pickleball courts.
Pickleball is a combination of table tennis, tennis and badminton, and uses a kind of Wiffle Ball and a paddle that looks like a large table tennis paddle. The rules of pickleball are similar to those of tennis.
Cheryl Waymack, USA Pickleball Association ambassador for the San Joaquin Valley, said that the pickleball professional league needs a minimum of eight courts for tournaments. Also, they have to be dedicated to pickleball and not shared with tennis courts like they are now at Plaza Park.
“Pickleball has been called ‘the fastest growing sport in America and there will be eight million players in the United States by next year.” Given Visalia’s central location and year round good weather, Waymack says the city could become a pickleball destination.
The pickleball players also feel it would be a better use of the space. They say that the tennis courts are never fully used but that the pickleball courts are always full and are used by many more people.
A Clovis resident had her letter read during the hearing and said that she loves Visalia’s pickleball players so much, and the amenities at Plaza Park, that she has thought about moving to the city. “Visalia has the warmest, most friendly pickleball players. You can show up by yourself then end up playing for hours.”
Two avid tennis players were brave enough to speak against converting the courts. They echoed the Parks and Recreation sentiment that tennis should not be sacrificed for another sport. They also said that once an amenity is removed it is very difficult to find funding to bring it back when needed in the future. The eight courts at Plaza Park are the only courts available to the public. The city has an agreement with Mount Whitney to use their courts, but Doug Hofer, a local tennis instructor, said that they are normally locked up.
“On cooler evenings you can’t find a court at Plaza Park.” Hofer said. He pointed out that not many people are going to play singles tennis in 108 degree heat when the pickleball players took their survey of court usage. Pickleball is much less strenuous and easily played in hot weather. He added that there are many more tennis players than pickleball players in Visalia and that people come from all over the valley to play in the tournaments put on at Plaza Park.
Another speaker said that, according to the United States Tennis Association, there should be 80 courts per 100,000 people. Visalia only owns eight courts. “You shouldn’t rob Peter to pay Paul. They should build their own facility.”
Councilmember Greg Collins said that this is what makes Visalia unique, that the city is willing to spend money on quality of life issues. He suggested that part of the money could come from the sales tax revenue if the sales tax measure passes this November. He agreed that pickleball should build their own facility and was not keen on losing tennis courts..
Councilmember Amy Shuklian said that doing what is right for the community outweighs the loss of two tennis courts. Councilmember Warren Gubler said that he is the proud parent of a tennis player of the year but is for both sports. He has observed that the courts are not fully used and that the two back tennis courts are fenced off from the rest and would be a perfect fit.
Mayor Steve Nelsen said it is important to accommodate the needs of the people and likes how Visalia always seems to be on the cutting edge when it comes to new activities.
The council voted to convert the tennis courts to picklball but agreed to come back at a later date to figure out how to fund it. Parks and Recreation Commission predicted that it would cost approximately $75,000 to convert the courts. Pickleball Visalia had already committed $20,000 towards the project and could possibly come up with more funds.