The San Luis Obispo community has been asking for more recreational activities in Mitchell Park for the past couple of years, according to city staff, so after receiving a nearly $200,000 grant from California State Parks, city officials have opted to put that money towards new pickleball courts.
Pickleball is a paddle-based sport, crossing badminton, table tennis and regular tennis. The ball is plastic with holes and the courts are smaller than tennis courts.
Greg Avakian, San Luis Obispo’s parks and recreation director, said pickleball is a very popular activity that everyone can enjoy.
“We have a very local and growing pickleball community,” Avakian said. “This is a very multigenerational...sport, a more activity-based amenity that is for all ages and abilities.”
Mitchell Park is known for holding events, rallies, and festivals, but it is also known to be a safe space for those without housing.
San Luis Obispo resident Michelle Mansker said during a city council hearing she has concerns about the new courts being an attempt to remove the homeless community from the park.
“It was kind of a way to force the unhoused community out of Mitchell Park,” Mansker said. “And also to limit free speech.”
In response, council member Shelly Stanwyk said some park activities have more to do with addressing crime in the park rather than housing.
“The activation of parks with positive activities has been shown time and time again,” to improve the park’s overall environment and experience.
Avakian said with the pandemic, sports like pickleball allow for social distancing and the city will be taking safety precautions.
“There are practices in..place to have safe play—such as hand sanitizer, not sharing equipment, wiping off the ball during play and in between activities.” Avakian said.
Some shared concerns the new addition to the park will disturb its historical layout. Avakian said the courts will only be one-fourth the size of a basketball court, and won’t compromise opportunities for free speech and events.
“There is no intention of changing the configuration of the park layout or the current sidewalks that lead up to the gazebo, we want to keep the integrity in that area,” Avakian said.
After the city council gave the greenlight for pickleball courts at Mitchell Park, staff will move forward with the design process, with more public engagement and community outreach.