Almanac

News - February 12, 2014

Strife on city tennis courts leads to threats, police intervention

by Sandy Brundage

Sportsmanship has been in short supply on Menlo Park's tennis courts of late, as clashes over reservations have led to police calls and in some cases, threats of bodily harm.

Vice Mayor Catherine Carlton said a local instructor who purchased the proper permit through the city to hold private lessons on the courts has found himself confronted by people refusing to leave when he arrives at a reserved time with a client in tow. According to the councilwoman, the animosity has extended off the courts, with threatening notes left on the instructor's car.

Police have been called to referee court disputes five times since December, Chief Bob Jonsen said. Of the five calls, twice the disturbing parties left before police arrived; officers gave a warning on one call; and on the other two, no violations had occurred.

Each year the city sells keys to access the 16 courts — $50 for residents, and $100 for non-residents. Currently, 173 people have paid for 2014 keys. Half of the courts at each of the five sites are set aside for the general public; those wishing to use the facilities for private lessons have to pay an additional fee to Menlo Park.

Recreation Coordinator Matt Milde said the city plans to send out notices to the current key holders, as well as an additional 315 patrons who bought keys last year, to remind everyone of the court use policies.

"In 2013, we only received a couple of complaints from renters who had a designated time-slot where there were challenges with people not wanting to move from the court, even after being made aware of the posted rental schedule," Mr. Milde said.

"It's only been recently that we have been made aware of a couple of individuals who have had more vocal confrontations. For non-emergency issues residents are encouraged to contact our offices during business hours or the police non-emergency line during evenings and weekends. For emergencies, residents are advised to call 911."

Ms. Carlton, who served on the Parks and Recreation commission, wants to ensure that the city's notices clearly spell out the rules and the consequences — setting a limit on how many times police may be called before you forfeit your key, for example.

"I want to make it all clean and legal," she said. "My worst case fear is that someone gets really upset and shoots someone. ... it's probably the first time in memory that it's gotten this extreme. Everybody has to play nice on the tennis courts."

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