La Palma abandons plans for Pickleball courts as construction costs skyrocket

Open green space in Central Park will now not be used for Pickeball in La Palma. Courtesy photo

The much-discussed plan to construct new pickleball courts in La Palma has been abandoned by the City Council after bids on the proposed construction project ballooned to over $700,000.

The La Palma City Council, now only meeting once per month, voted unanimously on Tuesday to look at alternative ways to provide pickleball courts rather than construct new ones on what is currently green space in Central Park.

Mayor Debbie Baker proposed the construction of new courts back in January during a meeting that saw support for the sport, but concern as well.
Despite concerns, even then, over the cost, Baker said pickleball courts are not a luxury item but “a good investment into the community.”

Council member Janet Keo Conklin agreed but stressed the Council should figure out how to make the courts “pay for themselves” over the long term.
In January, the Council voted to award a no-bid contract worth $66,000 to NUVIS Landscape Architecture to prepare bid documents, create designs, etc. to move the project forward.

While pickleball is arguably the most popular and fastest-growing sport in the country, finding places to play the sport, because of noise and other factors, is problematic.
In La Palma, the Council also faced opposition from local activist Robert Carruth, who claimed the city has no business destroying the green space in Central Park with pickleball courts.

“I have observed hundreds of people actively using that green space for a variety of activities,” he told the Council on Tuesday.

Pickleball does have supporters in La Palma. One of them, Toni Kochi, told the Council that “pickleball is a safe sport,” she said, adding “I have 10 knee replacements and I can’t play any other sport.” She explained to the Council the hardships experienced by local pickleball players as they try to find convenient places to play.

Most of the discussion, however, revolved around the cost after bids for the project came in at almost double the cost of staff and the professional estimate of NUVIS.

“Nuvis charged us $66,000 to provide some guidance and missed. I mean they struck out and put staff in a bad position,” said Keith Nelson during oral communications. “We need to look at our outside consultants and not rely on them all of the time.”

Nelson’s comments reflected the disappointment of the Council when bids came in suggesting the final cost to build pickleball courts in La Palma was $733,000. There were less expensive alternatives, but the Council unanimously agreed to seek other options.
“Pickleball is a great idea,” said Council member Nitesh Patel. He thanked Baker for “bringing Pickleball to us to look at options for the community.”

“But from the onset, I am on record saying that if the costs were outside of a range that we felt comfortable with, it’s something that would not be fiscally prudent,” said Patel.

He said the city was still better off “going the process” to see what might be possible for Pickleball but “It just doesn’t make sense right now. Costs have goine up, everything that has gone up and it’s a great idea because it is an emerging sport.”

“Our job is to go through the process and see what’s best for the community. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said, noting the Council should now explore other alternatives on the table.

“It’s a contractor’s market right now,” said Council member Mark Waldeman, who also expressed support for other alternatives.

As the Council began exploring repurposing its tennis courts and basketball courts, Mayor Pro-tem Marshall Goodman explained his concerns for making sure there was a noise barrier. “The sport (Pickleball) “tends to be a little bit on the noisy side.”

“I enjoy the fact that we have a lot of folks getting up and moving around a lot,” said Goodman, “but for the time being, the wait may be long, but not so long.”
“I do appreciate the mayor bringing this to the community,” said Conklin, but “we have to be fiscally responsible at the point.”
Mayor Baker agreed.

“I agree with all of my colleagues,” said Baker, “and you know, when we had originally looked at the design, we had thought we had an estimate where we thought the bids could possibly come in.”

“The bids came in at double what we originally thought so this is really disappointing,” she said.

City Manager Conal McNamara confirmed that a state grant of approximately $179,000 remains available for constructing a sound barrier or restriping existing courts in the city for Pickleball.

The Council directed staff to examine various alternatives to utilize existing city recreational assets to include Pickleball using either by repurposing existing tennis or basketball courts.