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Pickleball Courts Would Cost More than $5 Million

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By Jorge Casuso

May 2, 2023 -- Santa Monica finds itself in a pickle: Advocates of the booming pickleball craze are pushing for new courts, but the cash-strapped City has no funds available to build them.

Since launching on taped courts in the Memorial Park gym in 2015, the City's pickleball program was on track to exceed 14,000 participants before the coronavirus shutdown in 2020, according to a report sent from staff to the City Council on Tuesday.

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City staff estimates it would cost more than $5 million to build 15 to 16 courts at the interim open space at Santa Monica Airport to address the demand for the sport -- a cross between tennis, ping pong and badminton.

The evaluation of a plan to expand the City's pickleball program -- approved by the City Council at the request of Councilmember Lana Negrete -- also calls for a "pickleball coordinator" and staff to "monitor and regulate use of the courts."

Priority would be given to Santa Monica residents "when reserving a court or registering for a class, camp or clinic," and their fees would be lower than those for non-residents, staff said.

The courts could be constructed on 6 acres of interim open space located just north of the Airport Park and west of Bundy Drive that currently hosts such events as an antique market, drive-in movies and the Frieze Los Angeles Art Fair.

The total estimated construction cost is between $5.1 million and $5.4 million "with annual maintenance of approximately $40,000 and lease costs to the Airport Fund of approximately $25,000," according to the report.

The call for more courts comes as the City struggles to recover from the coronavirus shutdown and pay a $122.5 million settlement approved by the Council last week ("Council Votes to Settle Remaining Sexual Abuse Cases for $122.5 Million," April 25, 2023).

The City already has halted for four years accelerated payments to bring down an unfunded pension liability of nearly half a billion dollars ("Cash-Strapped City Faces Record Pension Deficit." May 1, 2023).

"No City funds are currently available to construct new pickleball courts at the interim open space at SMO and this project was not included in the City’s 5-year Capital Improvement Program," staff wrote in the report to the Council.

"Any City financial contribution to these projects would require additional revenue recovery and prioritization of this project over deferred maintenance and existing funded projects."

In addition to exploring building the new courts at the airport, staff evaluated the cost of adding lights at the 8 pickleball courts that were added at John Adams Middle School (JAMS) Tennis Courts.

The cost of 12 new light poles is approximately $400,000, according to the report.

"Staff have not yet engaged in discussion with the School District about this proposal due to lack of available funding," the report said.

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