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Canzano: Pickleball making noise that is hard to ignore
Debate coming to your city soon.
I don’t live in Lake Oswego. But I couldn’t help but hear the uproar last month from Portland’s delicate suburban city.
At the center of the controversy: pickleball.
The Lake Oswego city council heard testimony a couple of weeks ago from frustrated neighbors, who are tired of the noise coming from George Rogers Park. One woman made it sound as if living near the courts was hell.
“It’s as if there are six drum sets in your garage,” she explained, “and people randomly and frequently come and bang the drums in an unsynchronized manner and leave, laughing about it.”
George Rogers Park used to be a quiet, serene place. The old tennis courts were run down and rarely used. The adjacent playground was mostly reserved for strollers, toddlers and parents pushing children on swings.
All that peace and quiet was interrupted in 2015 when the city converted the tennis courts for pickleball use. An army of retirees armed with paddles descended upon the park in the last seven years. They brought towels and water bottles, arriving early in the morning, stretching out along the fences and chatting each other up between games.
“The whack… whack… whack… noise is unbearable,” a neighbor testified.
Each of the citizens was given three minutes to speak by Mayor Joe Buck and his fellow councilors. There were lots of other topics on the city’s agenda on Jan. 17. City ordinances, building codes, variances, and even a debate about a giant, old tree that a builder wants to cut down. But every person who signed up to give public testimony during the first 42 minutes of the nearly five-hour meeting wanted to talk about pickleball.
“It sounds like a car alarm or a barking dog” said one woman.
“A person has an expectation of privacy in their home,” argued another.
It was a fascinating debate. One that is definitely coming soon to a city council chamber near you. Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country. Last year, 36.5 million people played it. George Rogers Park happens to be one of only 10,320 places to play it.
A retired doctor, David Dunning, brought a couple of paddles and some special noise-reduced balls to the meeting last month. He told Lake Oswego’s leaders: “People who choose to live by a city park should not be shocked when there is noise coming from the park.
“Nobody forced them to live there.”
Bill Miller, an avid player and senior citizen, said: “It’s not like golf where four people are walking down a fairway. As many as 36 people can sign up and play at one time. It’s a social thing.”
Miller pointed out that being around others is healthy for our aging population. Social interaction staves off a variety of ailments, he said, most notably — loneliness.
Noise experts will tell you that the pitch and decibel level can drive a person bonkers. Others insist cities can easily build structures around the courts to reduce the noise impact. To its credit, Lake Oswego tried some sound-reduction methods at the George Rogers Park courts. It didn’t squash the noise or kill the debate.
I reached out to Kevin Richards. He owns RECs, a giant pickleball warehouse off Interstate-205 in Clackamas. The business offers lessons, court rentals, and even sells monthly and annual memberships. Richards has nine pickleball courts that operate at 90 percent capacity from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.
He said: “It’s so busy, we’re having good problems.”
Richards welcomes the noise. In fact, when I asked him recently about the fuss in Lake Oswego he said, “Turn it up…!” In fact, Richards is taking out an advertisement in some of the local suburban community newspapers announcing that his business welcomes the noise.
His marketing message: “Pickleball noise? Turn it UP at RECS.”
The owner of RECs is not mocking Lake Oswego. Nor is he making fun of nearby West Linn, which is now fielding complaints about the “whack… whack… whack…” sound from those who live adjacent to Tanner Park.
Richards would love the business, though.
Celebrities are investing in pickleball teams and leagues. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tom Brady, Naomi Osaka and Patrick Mahomes know an emerging market when they see one. ESPN announced plans to televise 200 hours of live pickleball coverage in 2023. The sport is absolutely blowing up. But the noise in the suburbs is where my mind is today.
Lake Oswego leaders listened to residents last month, weighed the dilemma, and voted to shut down the pickleball courts at George Rogers Park, effective immediately.
Players were disgusted.
That old park is now back to being a regular old park again.
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