Council reduces pickleball hours at Lang Park, encourages quiet paddles, directs study of alternate court sites

By SARA HALL

City Council last week unanimously agreed to reduce pickleball hours at Lang Park, encourage use of quieter paddles, and directed staff to study four alternative locations of both new and converted courts.

Councilmembers voted 5-0 on Tuesday (Jan. 23) to: Reduce the hours of operation of the Lang Park pickleball courts (closed Mondays; 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; 8 a.m. to dusk on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to dusk on Sundays) effective March 1; encourage and promote use of quiet paddles and balls, and mandate their use in city-sponsored classes; purchase an initial order of 50 quiet pickleball paddles (at a 35% discount negotiated with the manufacturer) as to sell at-cost to pickleball players; direct staff to work with the property manager of the adjacent residential units to incorporate additional sound mitigation efforts, including multi-pane windows, and pursue alternate locations for more courts, both new and/or converted.

The potential pickleball sites staff will study are: Moulton Meadows Park, at the far northeast end of the park bordering the county property; Alta Laguna Park, on the grass area behind the existing courts and/or converting another existing tennis court to three new pickleball courts and the inland side of Aliso Beach Park. This action directed staff to proceed with an environmental analysis of pickleball courts at the selected locations and appropriate $80,000 from the general fund balance to perform the necessary analysis.

All five councilmembers agreed that there is a demand for pickleball courts in the city, it’s just a question of where to put them.

Mayor Sue Kempf visited Alta Laguna Park during several recent weekends and found it consistently packed with pickleball players, both young and old.

“We need way more courts, we are not even close to having enough to meet the demand,” Kempf said. “I do think we need to figure out where we can add more courts that make sense.”

When looking for a solution, it’s important to step back and consider what the problem is, said Mayor Pro Tem Alex Rounaghi. There are “two buckets of problems” that are at play in this situation, he added.

On one side there is a high demand for pickleball in the community, he said, and it’s clear that the city needs more courts.

Even if he could wave a magic wand and add more courts at Alta Laguna or Moulton Meadows, that wouldn’t solve the real problem, which is South Laguna residents’ access to pickleball and consideration for the neighbors.

“I’m not in support of getting rid of the pickleball for South Laguna residents because that’s what we would effectively be doing,” if the courts at Lang Park were removed, Rounaghi said.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Pickleball players at Alta Laguna

Although others noted concern that the current location for pickleball at Lang Park is not appropriate so close to homes.

“I still don’t think it’s the right location for pickleball. If you were starting fresh, you would never put them there, 25 feet from a residence,” said Councilmember Bob Whalen.

Whalen liked the idea for new paddles, but more needs to be done and he supported the reduced hours, additional sound barriers, and potential alternative locations.

“There’s more than just paddle noise, there’s other noises associated with the playing that we’ve heard,” he said.

Councilmember George Weiss wants the local pickleball players to be happy, but it’s too close to residences, he emphasized. There needs to be a compromised solution.

“I’m for a compromised solution,” Weiss said. “For more pickleball, I’m for that, I want to satisfy the demand, but appropriately.”

Councilmembers were split on whether Moulton Meadows was a good spot for a court.

Kempf did not support converting one or more of the tennis courts at Moulton. There are parking and other issues that would cause a problem and get people agitated, she said. Although, ultimately, she agreed to direct staff to look into the potential of a new court at the far northeast end of the grassy area of the park.

The space at the end of the grass is approximately 200 feet away from residences, Weiss estimated, and it’s “hardly ever used.”

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There was general support for Whalen’s suggestion for a new court at Aliso Beach. The grassy area doesn’t get used much and there’s parking, Kempf noted.

In terms of other mitigation measures, Rounaghi also recently met with Todd Cottle, principal with C&C Development, the local development partner for National Church Residences, which owns the neighboring residential property. Rounaghi reported that he talked to Cottle about the idea of NCR installing double or triple pane windows to help mitigate noise.

“That was something they were absolutely open to,” Rounaghi said.

He pushed for the city to look further into the idea.

Although Councilmember Mark Orgill thought the additional sound mitigation efforts were a bit premature.

“It’s a bit of the cart before the horse,” he said.

They don’t yet know the sound impact of the new paddles, he pointed out, it may be significant and eliminate the need for additional sound mitigation. It will likely take further monitoring, he added.

“If people are using the paddles and if the noise is significantly reduced, then I think, ultimately, we could keep the hours the way they are,” Orgill said.

They can move forward with the modified motion, but with the understanding that they need more information, Orgill said. Staff can return with a report on what the property owner is willing to do and, at that time, identify the properties that are still impacted and how much of a difference the new paddles have made.

“I just don’t think we’re going to be able to make a decision here this evening that is going to solve all of the issues,” Orgill said.

More recently, staff tested the quiet OWL paddles on the court, Director of Transit and Community Services Michael Litschi said last week. Although it wasn’t a scientifically accurate study, it did seem to reduce the noise on the court.

However, there are less quantifiable issues in terms of how the sound is perceived by the ear and how intrusive it is, Litschi noted. The frequency and tone of the sound, as acknowledged in the LSA report, are other types of measurement.

Orgill was on hand when staff tested the new paddles on the court at Lang Park. He walked around to hear how much of a difference the new paddles made regarding sound. He struggled to hear the game at all with the new paddles, he reported.

“It was significant to me,” he said. “Some of it was almost not audible to me when I was there.”

Before limiting hours or getting too far ahead of themselves, he recommended trying out the new paddles for a month or so and see how much it helps the neighbors.

Kempf was also on hand for the quiet paddle board testing and agreed it “significantly” reduced the noise. There are also quieter balls, she added.

On October 24, council unanimously agreed to direct staff on parallel pickleball plans for the future of the courts at Lang Park. Councilmembers voted 5-0 to direct staff to start the process of possibly relocating the Lang pickleball courts, including converting one tennis court at Alta Laguna Park, by conducting the necessary studies; while also researching additional sound attenuation solutions and quieter equipment that could be installed at the current Lang courts.

The item was brought forth under councilmember requests, with Weiss proposing to remove and relocate the Lang Park pickleball courts.

There have been concerns raised about noise from residents of the adjoining apartments, Weiss explained at the meeting. In hindsight, they should not have placed pickleball courts so close to the residential area, he said.

There was some back and forth about what to do before they decided on pursuing both plans. There’s no simple solution, councilmembers agreed.

The Lang Park pickleball courts have been in place since 2017. In response to recent resident feedback, the city took measures to assess and reduce the sound impacts related to pickleball play.

A noise study was conducted both before and after installing noise attenuation fencing. The levels after the fencing was installed were below the standards in the municipal code.

In a noise assessment conducted in August by LSA Associates, experts concluded that when comparing the noise levels before and after a barrier was installed the noise levels were reduced conservatively at the adjacent sensitive receptors where pickleball activities are most audible. However, they also noted that “pickleball play has the potential to be above either or both standards with harder paddle hits, more cheering, and/or all three courts being used” at the same time. Noise monitoring results show that “noise attributed to pickleball play either approaches the noise standards or, on occasion, is slightly above the noise standards for short periods of time.”

The LSA report notes that “the repeated impulsive noise of the paddle hitting the ball is perceived by the human ear to be more intrusive than the more constant traffic noise,” Weiss pointed out at the October meeting. Also, the use of all three courts at the same time, along with player participation noise, could exceed the city’s maximum instantaneous noise level standard.

During public comment last week, about a dozen people spoke, most were pickleball players in support of keeping the courts at Lang Park. Several players urged the council to keep the sport at the location and commented that the reduced hours (while asking for Sunday to be allowed until dusk, longer than the initial staff recommendation) and quiet paddles and balls are a fair compromise.

A few local neighbors spoke in opposition to the courts, again emphasizing the noise and close proximity of their homes to the courts.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.


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