Grass Valley reaches compromise with vets, pickleball players | TheUnion.com

Grass Valley reaches compromise with vets, pickleball players

The American Elm and World War I veteran plaque that have been under such close scrutiny lately are staying put.

The pickleball court is on the move.

After listening to concerns from a large group of local veterans Tuesday night, Grass Valley's City Council members opted to move a previously-approved pickleball court construction project, which would have been built in Memorial Park's picnic and barbecue area, to a different part of the park.

The original plan would have required the removal of two trees — one of which, an American Elm, contains a plaque dedicated to a World War I veteran.

According to City Manager Tim Kiser, an arborist told the city that the Elm, along with a handful of other trees in Memorial Park, is in poor health and will soon need to be removed.

But many veterans said they weren't in favor of removing the plaque or losing the picnic area.

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At Tuesday night's city council meeting, some said they'd like the city to scrap the project entirely. But, in that case, the city would lose the $185,000 it agreed to pay the construction company it hired to build the project.

Ultimately, the council directed city staff to negotiate a contract change with the construction company. The new proposed plan is to move the courts to an unused area between the park's softball field and tennis courts.

WHY MEMORIAL PARK?

Representatives from the Grass Valley Pickleball Club, a group with nearly 100 members, have been working with the council for years on finding a suitable location to build permanent courts.

Judie Tartaglia, president of the Pickleball Club, said the sport is becoming increasingly popular around the country. The game is played over a net with a Wiffle Ball and solid paddles and is "like ping-pong on steroids," she said. The sport is easy on joints and muscles, making it accessible to a large population, according to Tartaglia.

The club currently plays on a re-striped tennis court at Grass Valley's DeVere Mautino Park. But members set up and take down temporary nets at the court for each game, and have been hoping for a more permanent situation.

According to Tartaglia, four pickleball courts fit into the size of one tennis court.

Council members, responding to numerous complaints from community members about local parks being overrun with crime, said they'd zeroed in on the Memorial Park picnic area as an ideal location for pickleball courts because the space has become rife with issues. They hoped the courts would attract a new crowd to the park and, hopefully, push crime and drug issues out.

City staff said the Memorial Park picnic area is especially problematic because it's concealed from the road and difficult for the police department to patrol. The picnic benches, staff said, have become a popular place for loitering and are contributing to the park's unfriendly reputation.

"It's amazing, the stuff we're allowing to go on in the park," Grass Valley resident Matthew Coulter told the city council in August. Coulter said he can see Memorial Park from a window in his house, and he often observes criminal activity.

Others told council members that crime is rampant throughout the city, and they weren't being proactive enough about addressing the issue.

Kiser said the city hoped that building courts in the Memorial Park picnic area would address the pickleball players' requests and also help mitigate the crime issue, effectively solving two issues simultaneously.

BACKLASH

But some veterans said city officials never asked for their help in solving the park's crime problem, and didn't consult them about the proposed pickleball court project.

According to Will Buck, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2655 commander, the city spoke with only one veteran prior to discussing and approving the project at city council and planning commission meetings. But that veteran didn't understand the scope of the project and had never heard of pickleball, he said.

Kiser apologized for the lack of communication.

"It came to our attention that we did not get sufficient input on the initial process, which I will take 100 percent of the blame for and own that mistake," Kiser said. "We should have reached out to the veterans in a more diverse fashion … We thought we were communicating correctly, but we were not."

According to Buck, the picnic area is important to vets. It was traditionally used for an annual Memorial Day barbecue, which has been moved inside in recent years, but Buck said many veterans are hoping to bring it back to the park.

"That area should be available for veterans to enjoy," he said.

After hearing the city's concerns about crime in the park, Post 2655 is planning to move its monthly barbecue to the picnic area, Buck said.

"We will become a presence there again," he said.

Other veterans said they were concerned that the city would move a memorial plaque just to make room for sports courts, which they said was disrespectful.

COMPROMISE

Council members said moving the courts to another part of the park seemed like a good compromise, and many who attended Tuesday night's meeting agreed.

Bjorn Jones, Grass Valley's senior civil engineer, said he'd continue to develop the revised design, which he hopes will not require the removal of any trees. He presented a preliminary design mockup Tuesday, which is attached to this story.

The contracted construction crew, he said, seems open to changing the plan.

Kiser said city staff would work with veterans on creating a plan to address the dead and dying trees in Memorial Park, and on a longer-term vision for upgrades to the park.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email mpera@theunion.com or call 530-477-4231.

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