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Lawsuit claims pickleball is making Newport park’s tennis courts too noisy

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Judy Dempsey takes a pickleball lesson from Joe French in February 2015 at the San Joaquin Hills Park tennis courts in Newport Beach.
(File Photo)

A Corona del Mar woman has sued the city of Newport Beach, claiming that public tennis courts about 100 yards from her house are too noisy.

The lawsuit by Sarah Thomas alleges that the noise has driven down the value of her home and caused her “severe mental suffering, frustration and anxiety.”

The suit, filed March 1 in Orange County Superior Court, seeks undetermined monetary damages and an injunction forcing Newport Beach to fix the alleged nuisance.

But the city says it has already installed two fences designed to block noise at the courts and has cut playing hours in efforts to assuage Thomas’ complaints.

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“I think we did a lot of things to work with her,” City Attorney Aaron Harp said. “I’m not sure why they decided to initiate litigation over it.”

Thomas’ lawsuit accuses the city of creating the noise problem in February 2014 when it had new lines painted on one of the four tennis courts at San Joaquin Hills Park so it could be used for pickleball, a relatively new sport in which players use paddles to swat a ball over a short net.

Thomas lives in a home on Jetty Drive next to the park and closest to the repainted court, according to the lawsuit.

Pickleball has been described as part tennis, part ping-pong and part badminton and is popular partly because it can be played by almost anyone and is gentle on the body.

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Players told the Daily Pilot last year that the sport is indeed noisy.

“The beauty of pickleball is you don’t have to be real quiet,” Lynnette Holloway of Huntington Beach said. “You can have fun talking and laughing. It’s more of a relaxed environment.”

But since the pickleball players arrived, Thomas has been exposed to “substandard conditions,” her lawsuit claims.

Thomas says she’s had to endure noise above 50 decibels before 7 a.m. and bursts of sound louder than 80 decibels at various times during the day.

Fifty decibels is comparable to hearing a dishwasher in the next room; 80 decibels is about the volume of a garbage disposal a few feet away.

Generally, Newport Beach considers noise acceptable as long as it doesn’t exceed 55 decibels for more than 15 consecutive minutes, Harp said. City tests found noise from the courts to be within that limit, according to Harp.

Thomas, however, says she suffers through noise louder than 60 decibels for extended periods during the day. She claims the noise has affected her sleep and even made her leave home at times to get away from the sound.

“The noise and vibration interfere with [her] ability to hear people on the telephone, to hear the telephone ring, to hear when people are at the front door and to simply hold a conversation,” the lawsuit states. It says Thomas worries about “health risks associated with long-term exposure to these excessive noise levels.”

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Lawyers representing Thomas did not respond Tuesday to messages seeking comment.

Harp said he’s only aware of the city receiving two noise complaints about the pickleball court, one of them from Thomas.

After the city reduced playing hours, put up the acoustic fencing and soundproofed one side of the court, one of those complaints was resolved, he added.

“The city wants to be a good neighbor,” Harp said.

Writer Susan Hoffman contributed to this report.

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