By Karen Billing
Some Pacific Highlands Ranch residents addressed San Dieguito Union School District board at its Aug. 18 meeting about opening up some of the Canyon Crest Academy’s publicly-funded tennis courts to the tennis-playing public.
Philip Pellouchoud, a new resident of Pacific Highlands Ranch, was one of three residents to make the request to the board. Both of his kids are competitive junior tennis players and grew up in the Poway Unified School District area where they had very good access to tennis courts — high schools such as Westview, Poway, Mt. Carmel and Rancho Bernardo make at least some courts available to residents.
In Carmel Valley, he has few options for his kids to play on public courts — there are long waits at Torrey Pines High’s courts and while he is still a member at a club in Penasquitos it would be more convenient for his kids to play on the courts right in his neighborhood.
“This really boils down to one very simple issue: What kind of community do we want to be? Do we want to be a community that welcomes children into our publicly-funded facilities or do we want to build walls and lock gates to prevent access? Do we want to be a community that fosters and encourages physical fitness or do we want to keep to ourselves and expect families to do it on their own with no support from the community?” Pellouchoud asked. “When a community starts to lock kids out, when it starts taking away options, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see vandalism and increased truancy. Parks, recreation centers and easy access to publicly-funded facilities is an effective weapon against teenage boredom.”
Christopher Black, the CCA varsity tennis coach since the school opened 13 years ago, said as a lifelong tennis player he can appreciate that people want to have a place to play. However, he warned the board that opening up the tennis courts to the public could carry a significant fiscal cost, compromise the integrity of the facilities and cause a safety issue for students.
Black said over the past 13 seasons he has visited over 50 of San Diego County’s high school tennis facilities and very few compare to CCA’s as they’ve managed to preserve the courts by limiting their use.
Black said when he first started coaching the team, they visited the Torrey Pines courts that are open to the public and found them to be a “mess,” with cut nets, vandalized fences, and courts scratched up and marred by gum and black marks, victim to skateboards and others who didn’t respect the surface or use it for its intended use.
“Unfortunately, tennis players like the gentlemen that just spoke, don’t ruin public courts. People who use them for purposes other than tennis do,” Black said.
Black said opening up the courts would speed up the timetable for when CCA’s courts would need to be resurfaced. The average court costs $6,000 to resurface — with the eight courts at CCA, it would cost nearly $50,000.
The average public court needs to be resurfaced every four to six years and Black said because CCA’s courts have been so well preserved for the past 13 years, they will likely not need to be resurfaced for another two to three years.
“In the time that many courts would be on their fourth resurfacing, we will have been on our first, thus saving the district nearly $200,000,” Black said.
Interim Superintendent Eric Dill said the public use of school facilities policy has been in place for a number of years and serves as protection for the district’s assets, as well as the students and staff on the school property.
The policy does allow for community groups to use district facilities when it doesn’t conflict with school programs and Dill said it has been very successful. Last year they scheduled over 1,900 events across the district’s 10 schools with outside users.
“The issue of the CCA tennis courts is primarily one of safety and protecting the school because of where the courts are located,” Dill said. “It’s in the center of the campus and if we were to open one gate to allow entry by the general public it really opens up the entire campus.”
Opening the gates puts the campus at risk for vandalism, theft and damage on the tennis courts and beyond, he said.
“We have had lots of instances of bad behavior on our campuses,” Dill said. “People who’ve damaged the floors, we had one group that destroyed a grand piano, lots of issues in the restroom and abusive behavior toward staff. With the facility use policy and somebody who’s rented the facility, we’ve known who those folks are and who we can hold accountable.”
Dill said with Pacific Highlands Ranch, residents are dealing with an issue of living in a still-growing community and not having recreational resources available yet.
The new PHR Community Park and Recreation Center, located between Pacific Trails and CCA, has been designed and is slated to be complete in July of 2019. The design committee moved away from a plan for the park that included five tennis courts as they take up a lot of space and the city has expressed interest in a joint-use agreement with CCA for its courts.
For a long time, SDUHSD had a joint-use agreement with the city of Encinitas to use the San Dieguito Academy High School courts — Dill said they jokingly referred to it as the skate park because while they kept it open for tennis use, they never saw it being used by anybody other than skateboarders.
That agreement lasted for about 30 years until the city invested in its own tennis courts.
Dill said there is an option to negotiate with the San Diego City Parks and Recreation Department on a similar joint-use agreement — he said the city has also expressed an interest in using the Pacific Trails track.
Dill said he would also continue to work with the neighboring West Highlands Pacific Homeowners Association on a potential facility use permit which would enable its residents to play on the courts if the organization takes on the fees and the liability.
“We have never said that the public can’t use the courts, it’s just about trying to find a way to work within the district’s policy,” Dill said.
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