First published in the Jan. 19 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
Local pickleball players’ hopes of having their own courts in La Cañada Flintridge were dashed Tuesday as the City Council advised staff to terminate negotiations with the school district regarding the conversion of the skate park on Cornishon Avenue into a pickleball facility.
The decision came after both entities couldn’t reach an agreement the past two months on the language of the pact that would give the city grant money from the state to fund the repurposing of the skate park.
Because of the joint-use agreement between the city and the La Cañada Unified School District, both entities had to sign off on the plan to gain eligibility for the state grant, one of the requirements being a 30-year commitment from LCUSD.
The district’s Governing Board adopted an agreement last month but with amendments to the language, specifically in the 30-year lease portion of the contract. City staff forwarded the LCUSD’s modified agreement for review and the state rejected the language because it didn’t demonstrate a 30-year tenure.
“I understand the city’s need for that 30-year permanency in order to get the grant funds,” LCUSD Superintendent Wendy Sinnette told the Outlook Valley Sun. “For the district, that’s three decades of being bound to a commitment on our property. And although it’s very possible there could have been no interruptions, that’s a big projection into the future.
“I think that the board had to prioritize front and center the school district constituents and just couldn’t deliver on the level of permanency that the city needed,” added Sinnette, who noted that the skate park has been open for less than 30 years.
The funds from the state were also contingent on the project being completed by the end of this year — giving the city only 11 months to continue negotiations with the school district and construct the facility.
“Anything using that grant money has to be completed by the end of 2023 and government moves slow,” Councilwoman Terry Walker said. “We don’t have the bids out yet; we just can’t pull it together to go back for further revisions at this time for that grant.”
While the Council was disappointed to see the project fall through, they remained optimistic.
“A lot of people worked really hard for a really long time on this,” said Mayor Pro Tem Rick Gunter. “It’s not like we’re going to stop, but this solution at this time just didn’t pan out. And so, we need to regroup and figure out what else we can do.”
The Council didn’t rule out the possibility of reviving the project through other grants or even using the city’s general funds.
“I don’t think it means the site can never be used for pickleball,” Councilman Mike Davitt said. “It just means that at this moment, there’s no funding available to do that. Maybe we need to go back to the drawing board with the district and see if there’s a way it could work from a logistical standpoint for the two parties. It’s unfortunate, but this stuff happens.”
One possibility has already been ruled out by the City Council, which voted 4-1 to repaint the tennis court at Glenhaven Park, reaffirming the termination of pickleball at that location. The city began a pilot program in 2021 and converted the small park’s tennis court located at 1918 Parkdale Place into pickleball courts. Local enthusiasts of the sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis were able to play during specific times, but the Council terminated the program in October after residents living near the park complained about the noise made by the athletes.
LCF staff considered installing barriers that would mitigate the sound, but most of the councilmembers felt it was time to move on from that location.
“The pilot was not successful,” Walker said. “It was not a win-win. It was a win-lose. I don’t believe we should win for one sector of our community while forgetting the other sector. … I think it’s time to put [pickleball at] this location to bed.”
Mayor Keith Eich was the lone vote of dissent and accepted an invitation to play pickleball at the Glenhaven court. He feels that the park is underutilized and is a good location for the sport.
“I didn’t see any pickleball players encroaching on neighbors’ properties,” he said. “When I played, it wasn’t abrasive. I don’t think [the sound] was that bad.”
The only local pickleball courts available to residents are on Cornishon Avenue during weekends and for a fee at the YMCA.
Councilman Kim Bowman expressed his disappointment over not being able to negotiate on a pickleball facility with the school district and hopes that future conversations will be between councilmembers and school board members rather than delegating discussions to select individuals.
“If we actually just got in the same room, we probably could have figured this thing out and I don’t think we’d be having this discussion,” Bowman said. “I think we’d be making use of the money. So, I see this as a failure, to be perfectly honest, on part of the city and school to not be able to get in the same space. … It means we’re not going to get this thing done as quickly as we could, it means that we lost an opportunity to work better with the school.”
Sinnette said she shares Bowman’s sentiment and hopes the relationship between the city and school district strengthens from this experience.
“It’s a small and very cohesive community,” Sinnette said. “And as the two key public agencies, we want that relationship to be really strong. We want those bonds to be forged because our interests are to serve the school and city communities because in many ways that is a single community. We want to have that partnership with the city, to be hand in glove.”