West Vancouver pickleballers are giving council a paddling after a vote to close the only dedicated outdoor courts in the municipality without a promised replacement.
After a long, protracted debate Monday evening (Jan. 24), council voted to put locks on the existing courts on 29th Street on April 30, and focus efforts on building new permanent courts at Hugo Ray Park.
West Van Players spokesman Ed Pielak said his group’s members were appalled by the district reneging on their assurances that the 29th Street courts wouldn’t be converted back to tennis until a suitable temporary replacement had been set up.
“We're absolutely in shock. We are not going down without a fight. What we want to do is get temporary courts,” he said.
The racket sport has growing rapidly in popularity, especially with seniors, but it quickly becomes the source of noise complaints from any residents within earshot of the courts.
District staff had prepared new temporary court options for council to vote on, including McKechnie Park in West Bay, and Normanby Park in the upper reaches of the British Properties as well as Ambleside Park – although none of the locations were ideal, staff conceded.
But council members could not reach consensus on a location or a desire to spend tens of thousands of dollars on temporary courts when most agreed Hugo Ray would work for everyone.
“We've spent way too much time and staff time and energy and money on this pickleball issue. I know it's important to the people who play but we have some huge issues – financial issues, housing issues – in the district and I just don't think we can afford to keep playing Whack a Mole with pickleball, to mix sporting metaphors,” said Coun Craig Cameron.
Before concrete can be poured and lines can be painted at Hugo Ray, a feasibility study and public consultations have to be done first. Coun. Nora Gambioli levelled with pickleball players who had tuned in that there was little hope of getting a budget approved and new permanent courts in place by the end of the outdoor pickleball season in 2022. Gambioli moved to install temporary pickleball courts at Normanby Park, the preferred option of West Van Players, but only Mayor Mary-Ann Booth supported the motion.
Council then turned to when the 29th Street courts should be converted back to tennis, giving nearby residents a quieter sport to live next to. After some negotiation, they settled on April 30.
More than a fun game, pickleball is a much-needed outdoor social activity for seniors, Pielak said.
“We play for a few hours. People come and go all the time while we're playing. It's going to have an impact on those people, and I've been getting calls from people, mostly in their 70s, that play almost every day, and they're devastated. They really, really can't understand what's going on.”
Being told to wait another year or two has an entirely different meaning for people in their 80s and 90s, Pielak said.
Pielak said they will now focus on lobbying council to ensure the 2022 budget has funding in it for permanent courts at Hugo Ray.
With municipal elections coming in October, Pielak said he foresees pickleball players becoming a new constituency would-be council members will have to court.
“We know that this is an election year, and we have members already that have said that they're going to be volunteering and putting time into this election where they've never done it before,” he said.