The Goleta Valley Community Center, in the heart of Goleta Old Town, wants to permanently convert its basketball courts into pickleball courts.
In the past, the courts were used for tennis and basketball, but some enthusiastic pickleball players, who tell about how the game changed their lives, have taken over the courts and now want to make it a permanent fixture.
Pickleball, in which players swing paddles to hit balls similar to whistling balls and on a smaller version of a tennis court, has grown in popularity in recent years. As skateboarders talked about their boards in the 1980s, the pickleball contingent proudly waves the paddle flag. Largely because it doesn’t require tennis stamina and is a smaller court to cover, it’s a game just about anyone in good physical shape can play. – and have a good workout.
The popularity of the sport, however, has led to clashes with tennis players on the few public courts on the south coast.
This is why the Goleta Valley Community Center site is such an oasis in the desert.
Gamers say there is a lack of space for the game that can be played by people of all ages. Santa Barbara’s municipal tennis courts feature striped pickleball courts, as do the courts near Goleta off Kellogg Avenue. Evergreen has been a popular pickleball spot, but the nets in the garbage cans are sometimes stolen.
âThere is something really special about these shorts,â Cheri Spencer, 63, told Noozhawk. âThey’re tight. You can hear what’s going on in the courtroom next to you. It’s really a sense of community here.â
She said she discovered the sport about six months ago and now has around 40 friends she made playing pickleball. A longtime athlete, Spencer said pickleball allows her to compete – not against others, but against herself, in a game of fitness and personal satisfaction.
Already, the Goleta Valley Community Center has temporarily converted five former basketball courts into temporary pickleball courts, complete with netting and striping. Players can pay $ 60 to reserve a court, and there is an entrance fee of $ 2 for two hours.
With pickleball players, the courts are basically busy all day.
The proposal, however, has left a bitter taste with some who believe pickleball and its players are pushing back other recreational uses, such as basketball.
Lenny Sobertman and John Anthony play pickleball on Wednesday at the Goleta Valley Community Center. (Photo by Joshua Molina / Noozhawk)
Some residents of Michelle and Winslowe’s neighboring apartments have complained that they have heard the sound of bullets being slammed all day. Others have also raised questions about fairness and whether a group of people with the financial means to raise money to restore courts and pay an annual fee are essentially buying access that excludes young people and others.
The proposal is directed to the Goleta City Council and it was submitted to the Goleta Parks and Recreation Commission on November 19.
“I have great concerns about eliminating the only basketball court for neighbors who live nearby and having it open and available by reservation for a fee,” said Commissioner S. Courtney Walton. âI understand that Mr (Charlie) Johnson has said that the fees are affordable and accessible to almost everyone, but I want to remind you that part of the diversity of Goleta and the Old Town is that families who live nearby, those closest to the pickleball courts, don’t necessarily have the same level of income as those who have moved in and bought the new condominium homes. “
Retired Santa Barbara County Fire Captain Charlie Johnson is the general manager of the facility and, along with pickleball player Michael Myers, has led the transformation of the courts. As it stands, four of the fields would be for pickleball, with permanent nets and stripes. One of the fields would be a multi-purpose field, which would allow basketball and pickleball.
Prior to the pickleball takeover, Johnson and Myers said the fields were rarely used for basketball or anything else. However, they have been used in the past for basketball games and by the nearby Goleta Boys & Girls club for outdoor basketball practice.
Myers launched a GoFundMe campaign in 2020 that raised $ 12,608 to improve the state of the courts. An avid pickleball player, he said the courts were “virtually unused seats for 15 years.”
Myers said the fence was quite damaged and “there were too many soccer balls in it”.
“We really want to put in permanent nets and take it to the next level and give all members of the community very high quality land,” he said.
About 300 people pay an annual fee of $ 60 to be able to reserve land at certain times of the day. Johnson said the walk-in gambling generates $ 60 to $ 100 per week for the community center.
âI think it really helped with the mental health and depression that was going on with everyone locked in the house,â Johnson said.
But concerns have been expressed about the noise throughout the day. The courts are also the only full outdoor basketball courts in the area. The old town of Goleta does not have a primary school; in fact, the community center was the site of Goleta’s first primary school.
âThere is indeed some income inequality here,â Walton said. “Not all neighbors are able to afford $ 60 a year. I’m concerned about making it fair to all neighbors.”
Walton asked what would happen if young people of color played basketball on the multi-purpose courts and someone who had paid an annual fee or no registration wanted to use the courts, and if they would be kicked out. She said she was concerned that one group with money would displace another group without money, on land that historically was free for most Latino residents of Goleta’s old town.
Johnson said he hoped he was not oblivious to community concerns and that “pickleball is what has kept these courts underutilized.”
“I hope you don’t think we’re taking any elitist attitude,” Johnson said at the meeting.
Walton replied: âElitism and inequality don’t have to be intentional. They can indeed be integrated into structures.
Others raised concerns about the noise, contacting the city and council members directly.
“Can the city add sound insulation around the pickleball courts at the Goleta Valley Community Center?” Connor McCarty wrote. “The sound is loud and constant – wock wock wock wock wock.”
Johnson said the community center hopes to install improved windshields and is looking for quieter bullets.
Most of the comments, however, were in favor of the conversion. Noozhawk spoke with pickleball players on Wednesday.
âPickleball is great because I had several knee surgeries, elbow surgeries. I used to play tennis and a lot of other sports,â said Lenny Soberman. “It’s like the big equalizer, where you don’t have to cover a lot of ground. There’s a lot of strategy involved. It’s kind of like standing ping pong.”
He also said that since the field is smaller, it is easier for players to speak, especially in a doubles game. He said he goes out with his friend John Anthony for a workout and a chat about once a week.
âPickleball is good for all ages and all skill levels,â said Anthony. “It’s a lot easier than tennis. It’s like a giant ping-pong. All ages, all skill levels can play.”
Anthony said he started playing during the COVID-19 pandemic because he said there was nothing else to do.
âI wish it was permanent,â Anthony said. “We need other places to play.”
For Spencer, who was playing Wednesday with a women’s group, with 1980s R&B songs such as âIt Takes Twoâ and âRoniâ playing in the background, the courts are a delight. She said she was looking forward to a tournament this weekend on the courts. She believes people can work together.
âPickleball players are sensitive to the community,â she said. âThe people who live here may have to sleep during the day or they have kids trying to nap. We care about those people as well.â