Tennis advocates in San Luis Obispo have been lobbying to install court lights at Sinsheimer Park for so long now that Scott Cleere has all but given up on tracking the saga's timeline.
"I don't think 20 years is a big exaggeration," said Cleere, who's the director of tennis at Templeton Tennis Ranch and a SLO resident. "It's been a strange debate. Having them at Sinsheimer makes a lot of sense."
SLO does not currently have any lighted tennis courts, the argument goes, other than courts at SLO High School and Cal Poly. Those are owned by the schools and student athletes are given priority.
Sinsheimer Park has six courts—the most at a SLO park. The lights would allow players to use the facility after work during the winter, and give the sport a boost at a time when its more novel counterpart, pickleball, has been getting more public attention and dollars.
Contentious clashes with the park's neighbors have stymied the project for years. The tennis courts, tucked in a corner of the park, back up against a line of homes. Some residents there are strongly opposed to the added light, noise, and park activity.
"It's been refused three times," neighborhood resident Terry Mohan said. "The problem with it is not just the lighting; noise is a problem. There's people over there [in the park] at night already, and no one's going to be supervising this."
In 2017, the tennis community made another push for the lights—and the city responded by allocating $204,000 for the project in its two-year budget. But after completing initial design work, those costs have now ballooned to $425,000, due to unanticipated electrical work and ADA park upgrades.
With neighbors' opposition still high—Mohan has threatened to sue the city if it moves forward—and SLO just starting an overhaul of its parks master plan, the project is again on the backburner.
"The pathway forward that's being recommended to the City Council is that the project be considered in the totality of the master plan update," said Shelly Stanwyck, SLO Parks and Recreation director. "That's a lot of money, and we have limited resources."
The City Council will ultimately decide the future course of the project at its March 5 meeting, when it discusses the status of several unfinished capital projects, including the lights.
A recent SLO parks and recreation survey indicated that lighted tennis courts are a desired facility in the community. Out of 507 resident responses to the randomized survey, 21 percent named it as a "household need." More residents reported playing tennis in the previous year (12 percent), than pickleball (6 percent).
The way tennis enthusiasts like Cleere see it, it's time to make the investment—especially after the city recently restriped French Park's only tennis court to include pickleball lines (despite tennis player opposition). And on Feb. 5, the city approved plans for a $120,000 pickleball court at French Park.
Striking a fair balance between the two court sports has proven tricky in SLO, Cleere said.
"We haven't hit that happy medium of how many courts do we really need relative to pickleball," Cleere said.
The Sinsheimer Park neighbors who oppose the lights would just like to see the effort go elsewhere. Mohan suggested building lighted courts in the Laguna Lake Golf Course parking lot, or on another underused asphalt surface.
"If they want to have night courts, put them someplace where they aren't going to impose on people," Mohan said. "To try to jam it in there [at Sinsheimer]—you're just making a mess out of it."
Cleere noted that adding lights to Islay Park's sole tennis court could be a viable alternative. Still, he and other players believe the project at Sinsheimer Park would bring the most benefit to the community in the long run. He doesn't believe the lights would cause the degree of impacts that neighbors allege. Court lighting could actually help deter transient or criminal activity around the park, he argued.
For Cleere, the bottom line is that SLO needs lighted tennis courts to serve its growing number of families and residents.
"In 50 years, when this town is no longer 52,000 people, are we going to want more recreation facilities?" he said. "The more I think about the reasons for not doing it versus the number of the people that will benefit, it's just a no-brainer." Δ
Assistant Editor Peter Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.