Pickleball courts open in Oakmont as drama fades

The east Santa Rosa community celebrated the opening of six pickleball courts this week, ending a bitter dispute.|

The once-warring sides in Oakmont’s bitter pickleball battle largely put their differences aside this week to celebrate the opening of six brand new courts at the community’s East Recreation Center.

Two tennis courts at the center were converted into the smaller pickleball courts for what supporters said was a far smaller price tag than the original location?2 miles away.

The fight over that project, which involved the Oakmont Village Association proposing to spend $310,000 on brand new courts beside the Berger Center, sparked an uproar that lovers of pickleball and civility would just as soon forget.

“It got ugly,” Pauline Uhr said as she showed up Tuesday morning to play her favorite sport, which is like a cross between badminton and table tennis.

But even those who were the strongest advocates of the dedicated courts near the Berger Center said they were pleased with how the converted courts turned out.

“This facility definitely is better than the one we would have had,” said Tom Kendrick, the former president of the Oakmont Pickleball Club, who said he was “knee-deep” in the controversy over the previous project.

He noted the spectator area at the East Recreation Center is elevated, allowing for good viewing of the action. There are also six courts instead of the previously planned four. And the walk to the bathroom is shorter, he said.

The fight over the former location led to what Kendrick called some “vitriolic behavior” that people are happy to have behind them.

The idea for a dedicated center began after a proposal to convert the tennis courts into pickleball courts ran into opposition from the tennis players.

“The tennis club had a very strong lobby, and some big personalities,” he said.

That caused a new location to be sought near the Berger Center, but opponents said they never felt the OVA board heard their concerns about cost, noise and location.

Ellen Leznik, a retired Silicon Valley attorney, ran for the board in 2016 to block the complex, which she argued was an unnecessary extravagance, especially for residents on a budget.

She argued converting existing tennis courts would be far cheaper.

Other opponents joined her on the board in April 2017, winning enough seats to halt construction, which began even as the ballots that would ultimately stop it were being cast.

Kendrick called that the “they’re going to start counting the votes tomorrow so let’s start digging today” chapter in the fight.

“Even I thought that was a little weird,” he said.

Ultimately, however, the blowback and staff turnovers that followed forced Leznik to step down from the board presidency last year. She attended the Monday ceremony and said she was pleased to see how the project turned out.

“I was just thinking what a great end to a pretty difficult time,” Leznik said.

She stressed, however, that income disparity is an important issue at the 55-and-over community, and one that isn’t going away.

She noted that the golf course is now asking nongolfers to help subsidize operations. She also noted the pickleball club that pledged $16,131 toward the conversion of the tennis courts had yet to pay it.

“I didn’t see the check,” she said.

Kendrick acknowledged that pledge had been made, but said the current board absolved the club of its need to pay it.

“If the current board requires us to donate that money, we would happily do it,” he said.

Current pickleball club president Melissa Bowers declined to talk about $16,000, focusing on the positive outcome of the court opening.

“It’s just delightful to bring our community back together under a sport that is so addictive,” Melissa Bower said. “The learning curve is 15 minutes, but the addiction is a lifetime.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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