Council OKs MOU with Pickleball Association

Councilman Varipapa is president of group. Some object to agreement

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The City Council on April 11 approved a one-year memorandum of understanding with the Seal Beach Pickleball Association. The purpose of the agreement, according to a staff report, is to facilitate the growth of the city’s pickleball program. While some members of the public expressed support for the agreement, others objected. called on the council to investigate the matter further before making a  decision.

The vote was 3-1. District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic pulled the item off the Consent Calendar. Varipapa had to leave the room while the council discussed the issue. Sustarsic ultimately cast the dissenting vote.

The signature on the MOU attached to the staff report identified District Three Councilman Mike Varipapa as the president of the Pickleball association. Varipapa signed the MOU on March 28. The space for the city manager’s signature was blank.

Sustarsic explained her vote in an April 12 email: “I voted no on the MOU for the Seal Beach Pickleball Association (SBPA) because I was concerned about the possible impacts on the neighbors near the Tennis Center and on Bluebell Park if additional tournaments are to be added.  I also asked for a delay in approval, for further study; it was not clear to me how the current management of the center and the SBPA would interact.  I appreciate the enthusiasm of the pickleball players but would like to be sure that the benefits of membership are not affected in any way.”

The city received 68 emails or letters on the proposed memorandum of understand. Three messages opposed or expressed concerns about the MOU. One of the messages was signed by eight individuals. Hard copies of the  emails were available to the public at the council meeting.

Ray Ybaben was among the opponents who addressed the council. He said he thought Brenda Danielson, the tennis professional for the Seal Beach Tennis and Pickleball Center, had made the center something to be proud of. “There’s no need for a pickleball private operation,” he said.

He compared the Pickleball Association to a newly formed company with no customers and no references. “The current person who has created the business and who has got this thing to the point of a memorandum has not gone in the front door because they knew they would be dismissed—OK?— so they come in the back door. And they’ve done this to control the information that the City Council gets to see,” Ybaben said.

He argued that the city did not have enough information to make a decision that night.

Joy Applegate was among the supporters. She thanked the Tennis and Pickleball Center. “The growth there has been phenomenal,” Applegate said.

She expressed her complete support for the Pickleball Association and the agenda item to approve the MOU. “I don’t see it taking away from the center. I just see it as natural growth,” Applegate said.

Community Development Director Alexa Smittle presented the staff report to the council.

In response to aDistrict Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt. “This is a 501c3.” She was apparently referring to the Pickleball Association.

Smittle said yes.

“So this is by definition a non-profit,” she said. She asked what would happen to the money from events.

Smittle said the non-profit would retain 90% of the profits. (The staff report, written by Recreation Manager Tim Kelsey, said the Pickleball Association would share 10% of the profits with the city.)

She said the city would not be responsible for what happens to that money.

City Attorney Craig Steele said a section of the MOU says the association has to remain a non-profit throughout the term of the agreement. According to Steele, the MOU says the money will be used to promote pickleball in Seal Beach.

Councilwoman Sustarsic said she only heard about this a few days ago. (The City Clerk’s office notified the Sun that the agenda package was available online in a 10:09 a.m., Thursday, April 7, email.) Sustarsic want to know exactly why the city needed a change and how the members are picked. She also wanted to know how that would effect tennis or Brenda Danielson. She indicated this was putting control of tournaments and reservations into the hands of the SBPA.

“I don’t think I understand at all how that is happening and that’s a little concerning to me that I’m voting on something I don’t really understand,” she said.

Smittle said the city’s role at the center remains unchanged. “We are still in charge of the center. we are still in charge of working with different groups to you know make these events to come to fruition.”

She said Danielson’s contract was very tennis-focused. “It’s pages and pages of tennis,” Smittle said.

She said the Pickleball Association would still be going through the city for events. “We aren’t turning anything over to them. It’s intended to be a partnership,” Smittle said.

District Two Councilman Thomas Moore asked what was the difference between what Danielson does and wat the association would do. “How will it work with two separate groups?” Moore asked.

Smittle said the contract with Danielson outlines her role, which includes managing some of the other tennis instructors, managing some of the lessons, different tournaments and things like that that happen in the tennis world. She said the pickleball association would not have any role in managing staff or deciding who is a good tennis instructor. She said Danielson was an employee of the center.

Moore asked if staff could bring the matter back to the council in  one year.

Smittle said staff could do that.

City Attorney Steele said the MOU is for one year but may also be terminated on 30 days notice.

“Key provisions of the MOU include that the City will designate SBPA as the primary non-City entity to coordinate and promote pickleball at the [Seal Beach Tennis and Pickleball Center], and make space available for SBPA to market their activities and sell SBPA merchandise,” according to the staff report prepared by Recreation Manager Tim Kelsey.

“The SBPA will promote the sport of pickleball in Seal Beach through organized events and activities. The SBPA will pay normal court and facility reservation fees to the City, and may charge participation fees for events and activities. The SBPA will also be able to display marketing materials of event sponsors on the date of events. Ten percent of SBPA net profits will be shared with the City,” Kelsey wrote.

“The SBTPC currently consists of 12 tennis courts, 17 pickleball courts, a club house, activity room, and locker room,” Kelsey.

“While the site was initially dedicated entirely to tennis, pickleball has increased in popularity, leading to the permanent conversion of some courts. Over the past two years, pickleball players have become one of the largest user groups of the facility,” Kelsey wrote.

“There are roughly 180 dues-paying pickleball members, and staff estimates several thousand additional players use the facility on a drop-in basis,” Kelsey wrote.

Council OKs MOU with Pickleball Association