Pickleball remains one of the fastest growing sports in the country, but it's avid player base is only part of the reason, says one Oakland resident.
Darlene Vendegna developed the love for the game back in 2014, long before it became the fastest growing sport.
"Any way you want to define yourself – You come onto a pickleball court and nobody cares. They just want to see how you hit the ball," she said.
The Oakland resident is one of the biggest pickleball proponents in the Bay Area. She teaches, plays and pitches the sport.
"Right now, I have an 8-year-old and couple of probably 80-year-olds playing together on the same court. Tell me another sport where people can do that. It doesn't exist," she said.
But Vendegna said pickleball has a bit of a problem: There aren't enough places to play.
"Personally, I teach at least 25 people a week to play. That's 25 new people a week. The courts in the public avenues aren't growing," she said. "There's a real need for it."
But a proposal for a huge pickleball pavilion in Richmond recently hit the net.
Regulators shot down an initial proposal from PB Development Group to turn a portion of the largely vacant and historic Craneway Pavilion into a pickleball club with 16 courts.
"I mean, you could say that it was rejected. But I think what was rejected was the verbiage, not the actual facility itself. It was how it was presented originally," Vendegna said.
The Craneway Pavilion is designated for use as a public trust, governed by the City of Richmond, the California State Lands Commission (SLC), and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (SFBCDC).
In a letter to the city of Richmond, the SLC argued the proposal as written did not show the pickleball club had a connection to the waterfront, and as proposed, it wouldn't serve as a benefit to the general public.
Michelle Esquivel, who was tapped to be the director of pickleball at the pavilion – if the project moves forward – said otherwise.
"It would absolutely serve the public. We would bring this sport that is so inclusive and diverse to everyone in Richmond and everyone in the Bay Area," she said. "I wish I could take them and bring them out here to show them what pickleball is. I want them to see the laughter, I want them to see the smiles, I want them to see that it is so inclusive and diverse – which is Richmond, which is the Bay Area."
The developer is in the process of re-drafting the proposal. Meanwhile, Vendegna remains positive that pickleball has a future at the Craneway Pavilion.
"The way that the letter that was sent to the commission originally read that it was going to be a pickleball club, period. What it'll be is yes, a club, but it also would be open to the public," she said. "It's being resubmitted with the information about it being open to the public. It's still being available for other uses, for public uses, because the nets can be moved out of the way – so the facility can still be used for anything."
She thinks it would help draw people to the city who wouldn't usually go to Richmond.
"There are people in Marin who are thrilled at the idea of being able to come here and play," she said. "This is going to bring so much revenue to Richmond – in terms of tourism. I'm looking forward to going to the Factory Bar, I'm looking forward to eating at Tres Moles, I'm looking forward to going into Richmond more. I'll play pickleball and then I'll go eat. That's what we do."
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