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Activists threaten ‘pickle disobedience’ as San Francisco moves to kill popular pickleball courts

Two men face off in a match of pickleball on a sunny day in San Francisco.
Stone Barnett, left, and Jack Vincent play a game of pickleball at the Presidio Wall courts. | Source: Eddie Sun/The Standard

The lines of one of San Francisco’s most popular pickleball courts are literally on the line. 

Since the city’s Recreation and Park Department announced this week that it would remove some boundary lines at the bustling Presidio Wall court, a small but passionate group of pickleballers have risen up in alarm. The city is threatening to remove six of the park’s roughly dozen pickleball courts, returning them to their original use as tennis courts. 

In response, Presidio Wall's ardent pickleball players—who have been known to queue for hours on weekends to get playing time on the courts—are dangling the threat of “pickle protests” and “pickle disobedience.” Adding to the players’ fury, the department has also demanded the removal by this Friday of crowd-funded pickleball nets from the courts.

This image shows multiple people playing pickleball on outdoor courts on a sunny day.
Pickleball enthusiasts have been known to wait for hours for a weekend game at Presidio Wall Playground. | Source: Jeremy Mann for The Standard

The requests, detailed in an email shared with the local pickleball community in recent days and posted to pickleballsf.com, have left local players of the sport blindsided. The move comes after months of attempts to resolve noise complaint issues brought on by neighboring homeowners who have grown sick of the sound of pickleballs being struck near their tony backyards. 

‘I Thought We Had a Democracy’ 

Tensions between local pickleball players at Presidio Wall and area homeowners reached a head in August when longtime Presidio Heights resident Holly Peterson alleged that the sale of her $36 million home was thwarted due to the constant pock, pock, pock of pickleballs near the property. Ironically, Peterson’s home featured its own pickleball court

A white house with a black roof and window trim is worth $36 million in San Francisco's elite Presidio Heights neighborhood.
In August, Presidio Heights homeowner Holly Peterson alleged that the sale of her $36 million house on 3630 Jackson St. was thwarted by pickleball noise from nearby courts. | Source: Eddie Sun/The Standard

Mary Hickey, a volunteer pickleball instructor at Presidio Wall and Bay Area ambassador for USA Pickleball, was angered by the suddenness of the parks department announcement and the lack of conversation between the city, local homeowners and the pickleball community. 

“That’s what’s really getting people. No discussion. No anything,” she said. “I thought we had a democracy where we discuss things.” 

MORE PICKLEBALL: The Ultimate Guide to Pickleball in San Francisco

The Presidio Wall’s pickleball proponents allege that Rec and Parks did not conduct appropriate outreach before alerting the community of the decision to change the status of the courts. The de-lined courts will become “tennis only” and the change will essentially halve the number of pickleball courts at Presidio Wall, according to a press release that the San Francisco Pickleball Community released on Monday. 

A sign shows the name of Presidio Wall Playground park in San Francisco.
Over the last five months, Presidio Wall Playground has been a site of contention between local homeowners and the San Francisco pickleball community. | Source: Eddie Sun/The Standard

Across the country, many underused tennis courts have had stripes added to allow pickleball players to use the space, with the addition of mobile or temporary nets. The practice has led to friction between pickleball enthusiasts and tennis aficionados. 

An email from Rec and Parks dated Sunday said that lines at pickleball courts three and four facing West Pacific Avenue would be removed in winter or spring, depending on weather conditions, “due to extensive use of those courts during hours not designated for pickleball.” The email also asked “the community to remove their unpermitted rolling nets from courts 3 & 4” by Friday.     

“Pickleball is a fast-growing sport and Rec and Park is trying to accommodate the demand for new courts as quickly as we can, while also balancing the needs of other sports communities,” said Communications Manager Daniel Montes in a statement. “We’re continuing to provide accommodations for this sport and come up with solutions that work for everyone.”

An exterior of the Presidio Wall pickleball courts in San Francisco on a sunny day.
The Presidio Wall Playground has 12 public courts for pickleball players. A new plan by the city would remove half of those courts if it proceeds. | Source: Eddie Sun/The Standard

More Pickleball Coming to the Marina 

Montes said that over the past five years, San Francisco has increased the number of public pickleball courts seven-fold, bringing the total from 12 in 2018 to more than 80 today, including 63 outdoor courts. The department is also “working closely with the Pickleball Working Group to identify new locations,” he said, adding that the city plans to convert more tennis courts to pickleball in the near future.  

In a news release, shared with The Standard on Tuesday, the Recreation and Park Department announced that it would add dual lines to two tennis courts at Moscone Park Playground in the Marina to create six new pickleball courts expected to open in the spring. Rec and Parks also announced that it would add pickleball lines to every tennis court that the department repaves in order to meet continued demand for the sport. Of the park system’s 139 tennis courts, more than 12% have been dual-lined for pickleball, according to the city. 

The San Francisco Pickleball Community said in a statement that the department’s efforts to balance access for tennis and pickleball players was “valid and commendable. However, for an agency obsessed with solid outreach processes, like notification postings and neighborhood meetings, RPD has failed to host any such public forum for Presidio Wall’s neighborhood, which includes a fair share of both pickleball and tennis players.”

In response to the threatened court removal, the pickleballers quickly mobilized, starting an online petition that has gained more than 600 signatures since launching Monday. The players are asking Rec and Parks to delay any changes to Presidio Wall’s courts “until a proper neighborhood notification and outreach process has been conducted.”  

A woman stands with pickleball paddle in front of a net and blue pickleball court at Presidio Wall Playground in San Francisco.
Mary Hickey, an ambassador for USA Pickleball and local pickleball leader, says the community is prepared to protest the removal of pickleball nets and courts at Presidio Wall. | Source: Eddie Sun/The Standard

The pickleball activists plan to voice their grievances during a meeting of the Recreation and Park Commission slated for Thursday at 10 a.m. If the department does not reverse course, Hickey said, the pickleball community is prepared to participate in a peaceful demonstration on the courts on Friday—“pickle disobedience,” in her words. 

“Everybody's on alert that pickle protests are very much of a possibility,” Hickey said.

Christina Campodonico can be reached at christina@sfstandard.com