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Letter to the Editor Santa Monica Mirror: In Response to Mr. Schwich’s Letter of November 1, 2022

Mr. Schwich, an employee of the United States Tennis Association, made many serious and disingenuous allegations in his letter to the editor on Nov 1 disparaging both City Councilmember Lana Negrete and in his words the “torch-bearing band of merry clowns” aka the Santa Monica pickleball community. 

Ouch. I’ll not respond with similar name calling or false accusations, but rather with data. Currently, there are 23 public tennis courts in Santa Monica. 19 are for tennis only. 0 are for pickleball only. 4 courts, those at Memorial Park, have been designated as shareable. This breaks down as follows: 8823 hours a month of available court time on city courts; currently, the Santa Monica Pickleball Club (SMPC) pays the city for approximately 670 hours a month of court time. This works out to less than 8% of the city’s public tennis courts being utilized for pickleball. We fail to see how 8% qualifies as being given “the keys to the city and unilaterally determining how to operate the city’s … tennis courts.” During our 8% of court time, players are often stacked 8 deep per court waiting for a chance to play. Who has the keys to the city?

I would ask the public; what is a fair division of court time between tennis and pickleball? Should it be divided 50/50? I think the average person would think that is fair. Or do you think the allocation should be lopsided with a 60/40 split? If your answer is yes, what is the rationale for the uneven allocation? Surely you don’t think a 70/30 allocation of court time is fair, do you? Answer that question for yourself, then I hope you are appalled by the fact that currently it’s 92/8. If Memorial Park is allocated as 100% pickleball, the division then becomes 81/19. Is 81/19 fair? That’s all we’re asking for, 19%. And once the city builds dedicated pickleball courts, tennis can reclaim Memorial Park. This sharing of 19% of the available resources is a temporary fix. Isn’t that fair? 

I’m compelled to point out that nowhere in Mr. Schwich’s letter, does he mention how every pickleball player who spoke at last Tuesday’s council meeting emphasized that we are looking for fair and equitable court allocation practices which do not “disrupt” the current tennis programs, but rather better maximized court utilization. Meanwhile, every tennis instructor who spoke felt entitled to the public city courts simply due to the “existing tennis infrastructure” and “how it’s always been done mentality.” We are asking the city to find a fair solution. Lana Negrete is working to find a fair solution. Please don’t drag her name through the mud just because she’s looking for change.

The SMPC, a non-profit organization, was founded to enable pickleball to reserve courts at Memorial Park for free open play. Allowing SMPC to reserve court time was not a nefarious act by the city, but rather simply following their own rules. Permits are handed out in a prescribed manner detailed in the Tennis Instructor Guidelines by the Santa Monica Community Recreation Division; priority order is: City of SM Tennis Programs, SM Public Schools, SMC & SM Private Schools, SM Non-profit Organizations, SM Instructors, Non-SM Instructors, Non SM Public Schools, Non SM Colleges & Private Schools, Non SM Non-Profit Organizations. So yes, Mr. Schwich, SMPC gets permit priority over tennis instructors utilizing city courts for their own monetary gain. This permit priority has been in effect for years and in no way warrants your accusation that City Council members are “in bed with the pickleball contingent.”

Marine Park courts are underutilized; many times they are vacant or only being used by instructors for profit. Ms. Negrete is asking the city to investigate the situation. Perhaps, SMC could hold their daytime tennis lessons at Marine Park instead of Memorial Park? That seems like an easy win-win for both tennis and pickleball. Both Marine and Memorial Park are within walking distance of SMC. Mr. Schwich, please don’t vilify a city employee for doing the right thing!

Mr. Schwich, while the intent of your letter is to create discord and disingenuously drag a candidate through mud right before the election, we are looking for fair, equitable solutions to the current court allocation issue. We believe your letter actually supports what SMPC is asking for, permanent dedicated pickleball courts. Additionally, your letter reinforces what pickleball is, a community. You insinuate that our free open play is a bad thing, “players…can show up to the courts and play for free;” but isn’t that what public courts are for? Free play? 

One could argue that tennis instructors take away valuable public court time. Your letter refers to the “card carrying” tennis players that are affected by pickleball at Memorial Park. But in reality, they are not affected since they never were allowed to make reservations at Memorial Park; they make reservations at the 6 courts at Reed Park and the 6 courts at Ocean View Park. Those who are affected, however, are the private instructors who now don’t have as much access to the courts at Memorial Park to teach their for-profit lessons.

Also, you misrepresents the SMPC community as one “whose intent is to have fun while disrupting the entire tennis ecosystem and the community as a whole in Santa Monica.” While correct that our intent is to have fun; I reiterate that our requests to the council on Tuesday were all about working together and not disrupting tennis. You were there Mr. Schwich, you heard us, and yet you chose to misrepresent our intent because it doesn’t fit with your narrative of “torch-bearing” pickleball players gladhanding city council members and taking over.

Councilmember Negrete is being proactive and asking the city to investigate an issue. Mr. Schwich clearly wants the reader to believe that she is doing something nefarious by proposing an agenda item to look into building permanent pickleball courts and to look into fair court allocation practices. The only nefarious action is Mr. Schwich’s ill-intended letter which attempts to paint a picture far outside of reality and in doing so sway an election. The letter complains about a lack of planning, yet that’s exactly what Councilmember Negrete is attempting to do; create a tangible, actionable plan.

I do agree with Mr. Schwich that a world-class pickleball center should be built, but until that time comes, please Mr. Schwich, learn to share!

Very truly yours,
Lynn Soodik, a longtime resident of Santa Monica and a board member of the SMPC.

in Opinion
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