By KENDRA SITTON | La Mesa Courier
Since lines for pickleball were first added to the Collier Park tennis court in 2013, Collier Park has consistently brought in players from across the region to play the game — a racquet sport that is quickly gaining nationwide popularity. A longstanding plan to improve Collier Park will bring new permanent multi-use courts that will serve tennis and pickleball players to the city’s oldest public park, but not all pickleball players are on board with the plan.
“It’s a waste of monies — taxpayers monies and grant monies and fundraising monies and any other monies that they’ve got towards the project,” said pickleball player Mike Wolpert.
Pickleball combines aspects of badminton, tennis and ping-pong and is played with a unique net on a badminton-size court, according to USA Pickleball.
“The courts at Collier Park were one of the first in East County to be installed, and as such, has continually attracted a consistent group of players to the small park who live both inside and outside the City of La Mesa,” La Mesa’s Director of Community Services Sue Richardson said in an email.
Replacing Collier’s current courts, which were striped for pickleball when the courts were resurfaced in 2013, is part of the next phase of an overall update coming to the historic park founded in 1945. The first phase of improvements came in 2017 – the first time the park had seen major renovations since the 1990s.
In this phase, $2.4 million will be spent to replace the courts, restrooms and playground as well as change the topography to improve park drainage, visibility, and create ADA accessible ramps throughout the park. The plan will also install security cameras, lighting, pathways/sideways, plazas, parking, and picnic shelters and add landscaping, including a mix of turf, low water vegetation, and storm water quality features, according to Richardson.
The changes are based on the Collier Park Renovation Master Plan, which was started in 2008 and adopted in 2013. The Master Plan received additional public comments in 2018, Richardson said.
Wolpert believes the plan should be reexamined.
“The Master Plan for Collier has not been revised since 2014. Pickleball has been growing exponentially since 2012 nationally. Community Services and the City Council have been aware of that fact,” Wolpert commented.
Construction is expected to begin next summer or fall after the plan goes out to bid. Pickleball players are concerned about the one-year gap they will face while the park is closed for construction.
Wolpert took up the game after reading about the Collier Park courts in the La Mesa Courier. He is a part of a group of mostly seniors, one as old as 93, who play on the current courts three mornings per week. Typically, 25 players gather. Other pickleball players gather at different times outside of the workday. Wolpert said there are currently more pickleball players gathering each week than tennis players.
Wolpert is particularly worried about plans to change the grade of the park four to six feet, including changing the location and height of the court so it is easier to see from the street.
“They feel it’s safer for the police department to drive along Palm Avenue and be able to see down into the park. And if they say it’s raised six feet, they can see better, but our question is ‘How long does it take for a police car to drive down into the park, look around and then turn around and go back?’ Our presence playing pickleball keeps the riffraff out of the park,” Wolpert said.
Compacting the ground to be hard enough to accommodate a court may be expensive.
“Our opinion is, not being selfish just for pickleball, we want the park to look nice and be user-friendly also, but we think they ought to do it wisely, without spending all this money with still dirt,” pickleball player Mike Wolpert said.
The funding for the improvements come from several sources, according to Richardson, including park development fees, Federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), La Mesa Park and Recreation Foundation donations (for the new playground), and CA Proposition 68 Land and Water Bond funds.
To address the one-year gap from construction, Richardson and the city’s parks staff plan to transform the four youth tennis courts at La Mesita Park into temporary pickleball courts. The pickleball players concerned about the upcoming changes to Collier Park are concerned about this plan too, since the courts are shorter than normal pickleball courts and when the YMCA reopens, gym-goers will crowd the small parking lot.
Other pickleball players will also crowd the La Mesita courts, and already do even though they are not regulation size. Richardson said that when city parks staff went to look at the La Mesita courts in preparation of striping them, they found that a group of pickleball enthusiasts had already taped off the courts to play there.
Richardson also pointed out that the master plan for MacArthur Park, which is currently in the development phase, will have multiple pickleball courts to accommodate the fast-growing sport. However, those courts are a long way off from being built because the master plan is not yet complete and then funding will have to be allocated and acquired.
The construction on Collier Park’s second phase of improvements is expected to go out to bid early next year. Once a firm is chosen, the timeline for the park’s closure will be more fully known. To learn more about the park’s master plan, visit www.cityoflamesa.us/1073/Parks-Master-Plan.
— Reach contributing editor Kendra Sitton at email@example.com.