Half Sour…Squid indulges in the occasional light recreational activity, but given the heft of the Mueller Report is considering a slow read through that document as a weight-lifting exercise for Squid’s upper tentacles. To work the lower tentacles, there’s always the remote control for clicking through public television to watch city council meetings and Netflix documentaries.
Recently, Squid became especially engrossed in the six-plus hours of last year’s Wild Wild Country. It’s a deep dive into the Rajneeshees “free love” cult that settled near Antelope, Oregon in the 1980s, causing major tensions between cult followers and residents. Perfect for snuggling Squid’s beloved English bulldog, Rosco P. Coltrane, and munching on shrimp-flavored popcorn on the couch.
Squid was enjoying just such a binge session of a different channel on the evening of Wednesday, April 17, watching the Pacific Grove City Council do its work. After several presentations and routine city business, the Council reached the last item on the night’s agenda, “the main event,” as Mayor Bill Peake called it. The big controversy: pickleball. Specifically pickleball on the Morris Dill Tennis Courts on Junipero Avenue.
Squid prefers athletic activities that do not require breaking a sweat (such as: use of the remote control and slowly walking Rosco around the block) so Squid had to read up on pickleball, which reportedly got its start in the mid-1960s. The Arizona-based USA Pickleball Association credits former Washington Lt. Gov. and U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard and friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum with creating the game out of a hodgepodge of sports equipment on an old badminton court.
Today it’s played with wooden paddles and perforated hard plastic balls that look like wiffle balls (but they are NOT, as pickleball players will emphatically tell you). The USAPA reports more than 30,000 members and estimates that almost 2 million people play pickleball from a few times a year to eight or more times a year.
Keep your eye on the ball, because that’s where the trouble starts for some neighbors who live around the Morris Dill Courts. It’s those hard plastic balls hitting the wood paddles making sharp “whack, whack, whack” sounds that has neighbors seething.
Four residents showed up to the April 17 P.G. Council meeting to complain. Squid’s seen reruns a million times when it comes to angry residents addressing elected officials about the grievances, but these folks were angry with a capital “A.”
“I am terrified that you will sacrifice my home to put this on the courts!” across-the-street neighbor Fred Jealous told Council. “It’s a disaster for the people who live in the neighborhood.”
He tells Squid’s colleague he’s been living in the house for 43 years without complaint while the courts were primarily used for tennis.
By contrast, nearly all 14 pickleball players who spoke were joyful, almost giddy about their love of the game. The sport has “changed my life,” said one 69-year-old woman who recently retired. Another woman declared she’d been told by cancer doctors earlier in the day she was the healthiest patient they had seen all week, and it was all thanks to pickleball. Some pickleball players invited everyone to come try the sport and see for themselves.
Squid had a moment of deja vu. Joy-filled people who in almost cult-like manner claim a movement has changed their lives and entreat others to join them? Enraged residents who feel as if their community is being taken over?
OK, Squid does not believe for a moment that pickleball is a cult. (Although Squid did find a USAPA document that talked about “conversion” when introducing the sport to a community—hmm.) Squid does think the enthusiasts might just dial it back a bit for those of us not interested in joining or who loathe the sound.
To their credit, the players who spoke seemed open to compromise, and in the end that’s what the council did, at least for a three-month trial period. The councilmembers voted to limit pickleball hours to four hours a day on weekdays and nine hours on Saturdays. No play on Sundays will give residents a break.
At Peake’s suggestion, they also agreed to contract an acoustical sound engineer to study the situation and come up with ideas to lessen the sound of whacking balls. And there will be an hourly on-site monitor, among other improvements.
Jealous tells Squid’s colleague he accepts the compromise. Previously pickleball was available on the court for around 70 hours a week, so he’ll take the 29—for now. (He thinks it should be limited to only 20 hours a week.)
When the city’s Policy Governing Municipal Tennis Program was adopted in 2011, it seemed to anticipate the whole showdown. “It is recognized that the recreational needs of the tennis-playing public are the highest in priority,” the policy states.
“Tennis activity and participants must be mindful that they are sharing a residential area that places high value on reasonable peace and quiet.”
“Reasonable peace” sounds like a relative term for a cult leader—err, maybe a sound engineer?—to define. Squid will be listening in to see what happens as City Council gathers the data and rewrites its Municipal Tennis Program policy, and is also introducing a new snack food to the movie-watching ritual: half-sour pickles.