After further consideration of whether to spend roughly $400,000 on contract services to design pickleball courts at Richard T. Steed Memorial Park, the San Clemente City Council affirmed its previous position at its meeting on Tuesday night, Jan. 17.
The council unanimously voted to authorize city staff to execute the contract with RJM Design Group—which had been approved on Nov. 15, but not yet executed—and directed staff to focus on building eight courts instead of four at Steed Park after hearing from the public.
Councilmember Gene James, who agendized the item for another discussion, and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Knoblock expressed the most urgency in wanting staff to push construction forward as fast as possible.
“I think (Public Works Director Kiel) Koger is a professional; he can put a slab down, he can put a surface down and fence it,” James said. “We can add all the amenities at a later time, (such as) restrooms; we can work around all that.”
James also expressed a desire to sunset the design services between four and six months, as Koger had stated earlier that courts would not appear at Steed Park for at least another year.
“We’ve been talking about (pickleball courts) for too damn long,” said James.
Knoblock echoed his colleague’s stance about seeing the process move faster. He also cited a need to bring relief to residents living near San Gorgonio Park, with the noise coming from all-day play at the park’s own eight courts.
Interim City Manager Sean Joyce took a moment to speak on behalf of city staff regarding the council’s urgency in expediting construction, affirming that staff understood the council’s desire while also providing a word of caution.
“We’ve got to develop a bid package, go to bid, award (the) bid, (and) start engineering on the narrow focus that you define tonight,” Joyce said to the council. “That can’t be done in four months.”
Koger also spoke to Knoblock’s question of whether staff could sooner identify an area to lay a concrete slab in fewer than six months, saying he didn’t believe accomplishing the task was possible.
“The reason that I put up the scope of work is because I wanted (the council) to understand there’s a lot of different disciplines that go into that,” said Koger.
Even with focusing on completing a smaller project within the larger one, staff would still need to survey the area and find where to best set up access to electricity, according to Koger, as well as other factors.
As listed within the city’s agenda report, the scope of work for the design contract included the most visible elements of the project, such as 16 total courts, a courtside plaza area, a restroom building, 100 extra parking spaces for the courts, a new pathway to the parking lot, as well as landscaping, irrigation, lighting and fencing around the project.
Additionally, the disciplines Koger mentioned all require various tasks to be fulfilled under each one. Grading and water quality management plans must be completed for civil engineering, structural engineering requires structural calculations and plans, and light fixture details and other calculations to optimize safety and “competition playability” are listed under electrical engineering, as well as the concepts of landscape architecture and construction support services.
The report explained why proceeding with only a design contract before going further was ideal.
“Procuring the design documents before a construction contract allows the City to more definitively identify the full scope of construction of park improvements and to determine alternative construction phases tailored to available funding,” the city stated in the report.
Further, designing the entire park concept would be more cost-effective than doing so in phases, according to the report, and allows the city to better pursue additional funding sources for the project.
The Fiscal Year 2022-2023 budgeting process secured $3 million in city coffers just for the initial buildout.
City staff stated that constructing the project in phases was the best course of action, as listed within the report.
“If a phased approach is desired by the City Council, staff would pursue funding for subsequent phases of construction from state and federal grants, private-public partnerships, corporate sponsorship, and community fundraising efforts,” the city report said. “Traditionally, projects that are “shovel-ready” are more competitive when seeking funding.”
Such caution and a methodical approach were reflected by Mayor Chris Duncan, who said he wanted the project to be done “fast, but right.”
“The problem becomes, in the effort to speed things up, we do something that we’re going to have to tear out when we do the larger project,” he said. “(At that point), we’re wasting our time, right? We’re doing something so fast that it can’t be integrated into a larger project.”
A significant contingent of pickleball enthusiasts clad in red attended the meeting and vocalized their support for growing the sport in San Clemente. Several advocated for establishing the eight courts at Steed Park.
After public comments concluded, James initiated the motion that included an amendment to the council’s previous November vote to prioritize eight courts instead of four, with Knoblock seconding the motion.