Oakmont in a pickle about pickleball
Monday was a head-snapper of a day in the battle over pickleball that has neighbors in the well-kept retirement enclave of Oakmont volleying accusations and nasty put-downs.
Today could be even more dramatic.
Monday was the final day of voting in an uncommonly pitched election to decide whether the seven-member board that governs the Oakmont homeowners’ association will be ruled by a majority supportive of building pickleball courts adjacent to the central pool and gathering place, or by a majority determined to scrub the project.
Ballot counting will begin this morning with results announced in the afternoon.
Also Monday, earth-movers arrived at the community center on Oakmont Drive and a work crew broke ground on a project to build four long-approved but bitterly contested pickleball courts. Construction began over the objections of opponents, who’d asked leaders of the Oakmont Village Association to delay work until the election results are tabulated.
The potent nature of the day drew Oakmont residents from both camps to the project site Monday morning, and Santa Rosa police officers were summoned to assure passions didn’t get out of hand.
Monday afternoon, association leaders convened the annual OVA membership meeting a stone’s throw from the disputed pickleball site. During the public comment portion of the agenda, several residents stood to ask for peace - or to lambaste one side of the unneighborly feud or the other.
Mocking those who don’t want pickleball played near the Berger Center and next to the central pool, Oakmonter Ron Levy recited verses from a Groucho Marx song, “Whatever it is, I’m Against it.”
Resident Andie Altman, president of the OVA and a pickleball project advocate, told the membership meeting crowd of more than 100 she asked the police to be present that morning because an email from an opponent posed that unless construction was delayed there could be an altercation or “some kind of unwelcome consequences.”
Faced with such a perceived threat, Altman said, “it is our duty take care of it.”
Members of the pickleball project opposition denied there was any threat and accused Altman and the current board of ramrodding the construction of the courts.
Mary Brown said she was horrified “for the police to be called to Oakmont, of all places.”
Project opponent and board candidate Greg Goodwin said after the meeting he and some fellow critics met at the site Monday morning, not to provoke a confrontation but to rally for last-minute votes in the board race.
“When the police asked us to leave, we said, ‘OK, we will leave.’ And we did.” No citations were written.
Kerry Oswald, another project opponent, charged that for the current board and OVA administration to begin construction work Monday, a day before the election, was “a power play, petty and an attempt to tie the hands of the new board.”
Eight Oakmont residents ran in the board election, four supportive of building pickleball courts on a former putting green at the community hub on Oakmont Drive, and four opposed.
Opponents Goodwin and Ken Heyman said if they, and allies Carolyn Bettencourt and Wayne Van Brockern, win seats on the OVA board today, they intend to stop the project.
Goodwin and Heyman said they’re aware there would be costs involved in terminating the contract with the construction firm, but are convinced a majority of Oakmont residents don’t want pickleball played at that location, preferring the money to go to other, more essential, projects.
Advocates said the courts will cost $310,000. Opponents said the final cost is likely to be $100,000 more than that.
Goodwin said he’s not opposed to pickleball at Oakmont but believes the project is a bad idea for several reasons. Among them: The noise made by players would be disruptive to users of the adjacent pool and other common facilities, the court fence and other construction elements would be eyesores on what is now an open space and the cost of the project can’t be justified. Goodwin and other opponents contend it would be better for pickleball to be played where it is now.
Pending completion of the new courts, OVA officials are allowing the game to be played on converted tennis courts at Oakmont’s East Community Center, one of two satellite recreation and meeting centers in the 4,700-resident, 3,200-home, 55-and-older development.
Advocates of a new pickleball complex near the Berger Center contend the risk of noise bothering neighbors is far less there than at the East center that is located within something of a bowl.
Project supporters say pickleball courts at the new site will be an asset to the residents who play the popular game, will enhance property values and will upgrade a piece of centrally located OVA property.
“The whole idea is to create opportunities here for people to enjoy,” said Altman, the association president.
Pickleball “is growing exponentially, nationwide,” she said.
“For those of us who used to be athletes, it’s about all that’s left.”
In conversations and declarations before the crowd at Monday’s 51st annual OVA membership meeting, a few of the Oakmonters pleaded for an end to the bickering and a start to the healing.
Tom Kendrick, a project supporter, predicted, “in two months, we’ll have a beautiful new addition to our community.”
Residents will get some exercise and have some fun, he said. “And, most important, stop fighting.”
Goodwin, too, is ready for the votes to be counted and the issue resolved.
“It’s been intense for the last month or so,” he said.