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Council OKs parallel plans for Lang pickleball courts: Start process to relocate, while also studying additional sound mitigation measures

By SARA HALL

City Council this week unanimously agreed to direct staff on parallel plans for the future of the pickleball courts at Lang Park.

Councilmembers voted 5-0 on Tuesday (Oct. 24) 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.

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

This is a tough decision, said Councilmember Alex Rounaghi.

“It’s not really an easy call one way or another because someone’s going to win and someone’s going to lose,” he said.

The item was brought forth under councilmember requests, with Councilmember George 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. In hindsight, they should not have placed pickleball courts so close to the residential area, he said.

“This is a difficult process we’re going through because I don’t want to take anything away from people and the enjoyment of a sport they love,” Weiss said. “I’m for pickleball, but I’m also for the residents who have seen these impacts for the last two years and I just don’t think it’s fair on them or exposing them to noise they shouldn’t be experiencing.”

They have to solve this while still being sensitive to others, he said. Weiss also said he has “no doubt” the city will create more pickleball courts in the future. He confirmed that the Lang courts should remain until they are replaced elsewhere.

“I want to keep the pickleball courts nets up until we replace that capacity. That’s my goal. Not to do a net reduction,” Weiss said.

While researching this topic, it didn’t take long to find out that they made a “big mistake” by putting the pickleball courts in this location, added Councilmember Mark Orgill. Even with extensive sound mitigation, the minimum recommendation is to be several hundred feet away from homes, he pointed out.

These residents are definitely impacted by the pickleball court noise, added Orgill, who said he stood behind the wall three times to find out what the noise sounded like.

“All sound is not created equal,” he concluded.

It might be under the acceptable decibel level, but “it’s extremely annoying” and he would not want it next to his own home. Where he lives in town, Orgill said he can hear noise from the roads, restaurants and nearby performing arts.

“None of it bothers me like that pickleball court noise would bother me,” he said. “It’s something that we need to figure out. I would like to see if we can all work together and understand one another and be sensitive to the effects that it has on this neighborhood.”

Mayor Bob Whalen also agreed that the current spot was not the right location for pickleball courts.

He suggested they look at converting another court up at Alta Laguna Park, revert the Lang courts back to tennis, and direct staff to look at a long-range plan for pickleball courts, either still in Lang Park but away from the apartments or elsewhere.

Whalen made a motion to direct staff to take the appropriate steps (including research, any necessary environmental studies, scheduling with the contractor, etc.) to convert an additional court at Alta and revert the courts at Lang back to tennis. This will ensure that there is no net loss of either pickleball or tennis, he explained.

He also recommended staff look into the feasibility of pickleball courts on the other side of Lang Park, as well as at Moulton Meadows Park, as suggested by Weiss.

Alternatively, Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf recommended raising the fence at Lang another eight feet and adding more sound attenuation up higher.

“I think that would be hugely helpful,” she said.

Rounaghi agreed with the idea. He asked city staff to work with National Church Residences, the operator of the neighboring Vista Aliso (an affordable rental housing community for seniors), to make every effort to figure out how to mitigate the noise the residents hear from pickleball.

He also didn’t support the idea of shutting down the Lang courts. It brings people together and brings them joy, something they need more of in the community. It’s an important recreation opportunity for the residents of South Laguna, he added.

While Kempf and Rounaghi were leaning toward working on additional sound mitigation measures at the existing courts at Lang Park; Whalen and Weiss wanted to start the process of relocating the courts.

Orgill offered a hybrid motion (which was ultimately unanimously approved): Start the environmental analysis and other studies required in the process in case they have to move the courts, and, in the meantime, experiment and have staff research sound attenuation solutions, including like quieter equipment, and see what impacts that has in the interim.

If the additional work to remediate the noise at the current location doesn’t work, they have already started the process to move them, he explained, but if it’s satisfactory to the neighborhood then they don’t need to move forward with swapping the courts.

Whalen added to the motion that it should be brought back to council within 90 days.

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Weiss originally requested the council consider directing staff to remove the pickleball nets from Lang Park by November 15. At the meeting, he said the suggested removal date was “not written in stone.” If it takes to the end of the year to open up another court and for staff to study other location options that would be fine, he added.

Council OKs parallel plans for Lang pickleball Lang player

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Claudia Redfern

Claudia Redfern playing pickleball at Lang Park

On Tuesday, Weiss shared some background on several of the council’s previous votes in support of pickleball courts, including on Nov. 15, 2022, when they approved converting three tennis courts at Lang Park.

Weiss recalled that they were made permanent “provided the Acoustiblok fencing could alleviate the sound for residents living nearby.” Although the approved minutes of the meeting note that Weiss made a motion to install the Acoustiblok and gather data on its effectiveness, the motion failed to find a majority. In another motion, that was ultimately passed unanimously, council directed staff to convert the one tennis court at Lang Park into three permanent pickleball courts and that an acoustic report be completed before and after the installation of the sound attenuation to determine its effectiveness.

At the November 2022 meeting, Whalen supported the project and asked staff to do what they can to mitigate the noise. If it doesn’t work, he’ll bring it back to the council, he said at the time.

They didn’t have any information at that point as to whether or not the acoustical changes were going to be effective or not, Whalen recalled at this week’s meeting. At the time, he also commented that they should be looking at where these pickleball courts should ultimately go because he didn’t think it was a very good location given their proximity to the apartments.

“The acoustical improvements just haven’t done it,” Whalen said.

A noise study was conducted both before and after installing the noise attenuation fencing, confirmed Director of Transit and Community Services Michael Litschi. The levels after the fencing was installed were below the standards in the municipal code, he said.

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. 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.

“That’s pretty bad,” Weiss said.

Weiss acknowledged that it’s inconvenient for all the people who play pickleball in South Laguna, but also proposed that the city purposefully build pickleball courts. He suggested the corner of Wesley Drive and Coast Highway as a potential location. The impacts would be much less on the neighbors at that spot, he said.

In the councilmember request memo, he also asked that they consider directing staff to return with alternate locations that could accommodate or expand pickleball courts, such the tennis courts on Bluebird Canyon Drive.

Weiss also suggested looking at Moulton Meadows Park. The courts there aren’t used much and they’re further away from the adjacent homes.

Answering a council question about other potential locations, Recreation Manager Alexis Braun said the Bluebird Park tennis courts are on water district property, which the city leases.

Kempf also noted that the canyon is not a good place for pickleball considering how the noise travels. That would just be moving the problem, she said.

At the Alta Laguna tennis courts, the city and school district already have programming planned for that space, she confirmed, Braun said, responding to another question.

That would also disrupt the current programming at Alta and escalate the already-present tension between tennis and pickleball players there, Kempf said.

Building them on the field at Lang Park, at the corner of Wesley and Coast Highway, would take a while, Litschi said. Although he couldn’t provide a firm timeline, it would take more than a few months to study, design and build them.

Kempf raised concerns that it could take up to a year or two to construct them on the Lang field, which is also used for other recreational activities, she noted.

The city should look for more opportunities to build more courts overall, Kempf added. The sport, and the demand for space to play it, is only going to continue to grow.

She even looked at the top floor of the parking structure at the hospital as a potential location, since it’s a big space and not well used, Kempf said. Although it’s slanted for drainage, she said it’s still worth looking into for a possible long-term plan.

There were 20 people who spoke during public comment and more than a dozen of them were pickleball players who urged the council to keep the Lang courts open. At a minimum, they requested the city not remove the Lang courts until they were equally replaced elsewhere.

A lot of the players highlighted the benefits of pickleball, which is quickly growing more popular across the country. It brings people in the community together, it improves mental and physical health, and is a great way to socialize, particularly for retired or new residents. There’s also a need for pickleball courts in South Laguna, a few speakers noted.

There are many locals who enjoy playing and only a few neighbors are complaining about the noise, several people argued. There should be some level of expectation for noise for people who choose to live next to a park, some pointed out. They live in a village, noted one speaker, things can’t easily be moved around in the compact town and residents have to share their community spaces.

Some suggested improving the fencing with better sound mitigation, applying a court surface material that absorbs more noise, and using quieter balls.

A handful of speakers, mostly Vista Aliso residents, agreed with the proposed removal and relocation of the Lang Courts.

Several agreed it’s a wonderful sport, but they have a right to enjoy their home in peace and quiet. The scope of the discussion wasn’t about the health or social benefits of pickleball, but rather the noise and disruption it causes local residents, one speaker reminded the council. It’s a great game, it’s just too loud.

They now understand that it was unreasonable to convert one tennis court into multiple pickleball courts so close to a residential community, another person pointed out. They hear every “screech and scream and howl and obscenity.”

Weiss pointed out that, as evidenced by the public commentary, it’s more than one person who have raised concerns about the noise, it’s a number of people, including elderly residents. He also didn’t appreciate the public comments about the complaints coming from renters.

“I think everybody – everybody – has the right to enjoy their home, the peace and tranquility of their home and not to have intrusive noise on a continual basis,” Weiss said.

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

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