City Council discusses court locations

Erin Fox, Managing Editor

The popular 24-hour basketball courts on the southeast corner of Central Park along Bollinger Canyon Road are long gone, but the battle for their relocation is more fervent than ever.

Since the courts’ destruction in September 2014, there have been multiple discussions at city meetings among citizens and council members alike.

But there is still no solution in sight.

Councilmember Phil O’Loane said people will ask, “Why did you knuckleheads decide to build this City Hall without having a solution for the basketball courts?”

In Oct. 2013, the City Council approved the location of a new City Hall to be relocated from its current Camino Ramon offices to Bollinger Canyon Road where the basketball courts have been since the 1980s.

The new City Hall will have improved facilities with easier access.  The City Hall is the first step in the new City Center to be situated in the empty lot at Bishop Ranch.

Because the city already owns the Central Park land with pre-existing parking, Mayor Bill Clarkson said construction of the City Hall costs only $15 million at the Central Park location, compared the $45 million it would have cost at another location.

But the City Hall required the demolition of the popular 24-hour basketball courts.

O’Loane said the city saved $2 million to “pull the trigger” and build the City Hall without a solution for the replacement of the basketball courts.

There is no current budget allotted for replacing the courts, but in Aug. 2013, the Parks and Services commission was directed to find alternatives for two new courts to be built in Central Park with night lighting.

The criteria for the alternatives consisted of the following: adjacency to parking and restrooms, pre-existing night lighting, and joint usage by Iron Horse Middle School (IHMS) during the day.

Police Chief Joe Gorton also suggested street frontage for the new courts for increasd police visibility during drive-by’s to promote security.

In Dec. 2014, Interim Parks and Community Services Director Karen McNamera posted a public notice that the consideration of options for the basketball court relocation were to be evaluated at the December 2014 meeting.

The Parks and Services Commission suggested five options for the relocation of basketball courts in Central Park. Four of these options consisted of moving the courts to Soccer Field No. 2, thereby reducing the existing full-size soccer field, which is also used by IHMS. The other option showed the possible expansion of the already existing basketball half-court by the tennis courts at the park.

But residents of Vista San Ramon, a neighborhood directly across the street from the Central Park Community Center, spoke out against all options regarding the reconstruction of new basketball courts at Central Park because of the concern of noise and light pollution, as well as overflow of the parking lot capacity.

Bob Davis, a Vista San Ramon resident, believes the courts will affect the value of his home and lead to parking lot congestion, which would overflow into his neighborhood. Davis also mentioned that the city makes money from Soccer Field No. 2, but not on pickup games of basketball.

“This benefits very few people,” said Davis. “Basketball courts do not fit in any part of Central Park.”

Vice Mayor Harry Sachs hopes Vista San Ramon resident can accept the change, as the courts are beneficial.

“San Ramon is a great, welcoming city,” Sachs said. “This is a park that can offer many benefits and without encroaching.”

Former City Manager Herb Moniz is in favor of basketball courts in  a different location.

“You cannot destroy the park any more than you have already,” Moniz said at a Jan. 28 policy committee meeting. “What’s done is done. You cannot relocate the basketball courts in Central Park. [The Bollinger-facing courts were] easy to supervise, close to retail, close to the street, not near any residences…and can’t be replicated within the park.”

San Ramon resident Dorn Driggs has played on the former Bollinger courts since the ’90s, and still maintains 25-year-old friendships that arose from those courts.

“[They were] the most popular courts in the city,” said Driggs, who supports the Central Park half-court expansion.

In January, the Policy Committee met and received the same recommendations with more public comment. There was no consensus from the committee either on any proposed alternatives, so it moved onto City Council level.

At the January meeting, additional recommendations were made regarding the replacement of basketball courts within the community.

There are two basketball courts at San Ramon Sports Park on Sherwood Way. There is some light overspill from Tiffany Roberts soccer field, but people have proposed to light these basketball courts in lieu of reconstructing new ones at Central Park.

In October 2014, Rancho San Ramon Community Park on Rancho Park Loop Road opened to the community. The currently approved design of phase II of the park development contains full size basketball courts, though they are not planned to be lighted.

O’Loane said he was interested in exploring the opportunity of relocating the courts at Central Park between the amphitheater and skate park.

“It’s not a question of demand, it’s a question for demand of the right spot,” said O’Loane.

Sachs agrees with O’Loane.

“I am supportive of the suggestion to further explore opportunities [at Central Park]…more details on the west end of the courts,” said Sachs.

“We do take very seriously residential impacts,” Sachs continued. “I hope that comes through in our decision making.”

Council member Dave Hudson feels differently about relocating the courts.

“I’m not sold on Central Park,” said Hudson. “We looked and looked and looked and there is no way to replace what was there, it’s not coming back.”

He believes the focus should shift to other alternatives, such as open gym. He noted there are six school locations that have open gym opportunities.