New Oakmont board votes to kill hotly disputed pickleball courts

The enmity that roils Oakmont crescendoed Tuesday as the new majority on the homeowner association’s governing board voted to immediately terminate all contracts related to the construction of pickleball courts.

Directors of the Oakmont Village Association’s board voted 5 to 2 to kill the pickleball project, on which ground was broken April 3. The vote followed an open-mic session dominated by advocates of the project, many of whom sharply criticized the board members intent on scrubbing it or pleaded with those directors to change their minds.

Pickleball is an increasingly popular paddle, ball and net game that combines elements of ping-pong, tennis and badminton. The dispute pitting neighbor against neighbor in Oakmont has centered on whether a four-court pickleball complex should be built alongside the Berger Center pool at a cost of at least $310,000, or whether some existing tennis courts should be converted to pickleball at a fraction of that cost.

Many of the speakers who addressed the board Tuesday demanded that it would be irresponsible to ax a long-studied and long-approved pickleball project that would be a recreational and social asset to the east Santa Rosa retirement enclave and would boost homeowners’ property values.

At least two proponents of new pickleball courts predicted that it is inevitable that they will be built at some point, and that the actions of the current board surely will surely add substantially to the price of construction.

A minority of the speakers Tuesday stood to praise the newly constituted governing board for recognizing that it would be foolish to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a four-court complex when converted tennis courts would be just as satisfactory. Foes of the new court project contended also that for it to built at the Berger Center would spoil what is now an open space and a scenic view corridor.

Angry retorts and occasional shouting punctuated the meeting, the first full session of the newly constituted OVA board.

New board member Carolyn Bettencourt told the standing-room crowd inside the Berger Center auditorium that despite the strong turnout by advocates of the pickleball project, “The reality is, many are opposed.”

Foes of the project said evidence of widespread displeasure with the project includes the recent election to two-year terms on the OVA board of a three-member slate opposed to it, and an earlier petition of opposition signed by more than ?1,200 Oakmonters.

Voting to terminate the pickleball project were new OVA board president Ellen Leznik and directors Bettencourt, Gloria Young, Greg Goodman and Ken Heyman. Directors Frank Batchelor - the one project supporter who kept his seat in the recent election - and Andie Altman voted against killing the project.

Said Batchelor, “I think that if we terminate, we’re going to have continued turmoil and conflict in the community for at least another year, if not two years.”

A particularly dramatic moment in the meeting came when Oakmont resident Vince Taylor stood to ask Leznik directly about rumors that the new board majority was out to drive away OVA manager Cassie Turner. Leznik said there is not an attempt to remove Turner. “Her job is not threatened.”

Leznik turned to Turner and asked her, “Are you being driven out of your job?”

The OVA manager answered, “Not yet.”

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