Letters to the Editor for Sept. 14, 2011
By GEORGE BURNS, BRUCE GOSLOVICH and KEITH JOHNSON
Your editorial of Sept. 7, 2011, would leave one with the impression that Baker City’s one-of-a-kind grass courts are the genesis of controversy that has been continuing over more than a decade. Because the rules have changed considerably since the courts were first built, let’s look at the current issues surrounding the controversy.
The editorial rightly points out that there is an existing conditional-use permit allowing Don McClure, the courts’ owner, the right to play host to tournament play on no more than 22 days per year, over a maximum of six events. Save the Grass Courts Association (SAGA) runs these tournaments and in cooperation with Mr. McClure schedules other private groups for “social play” at the facility. Each spring, as soon as the tournaments are scheduled the details are posted at our website, www.bakercitygrasscourts.com, for all to see.
The “social play” events, of which there are few, now have become the bone of contention to a very small, but vocal, minority of neighbors. The editorial board apparently listened only to this minority and totally ignored those in the same proximity to the courts who have no complaints and recognize the value of this activity to the Baker City economy.
The editorial points out that the city planner asked the courts’ owner to agree to prohibit, or at least restrict, social play on a few weekends during summer. The Save the Grass Courts Association board of directors has no problem with some restriction; however, you assume the neighbors would appreciate such a gesture, and whose authority is it to negotiate such an agreement and for how long would it be in effect?
Much has changed in the years since Mr. McClure purchased the property. No longer is overnight camping allowed, parking behind the courts has been discontinued, there are no more late-night parties or use of amplifiers, SAGA pays for dust abatement of the road that the neighbors use every day and lights are used very rarely. Additionally, contrary to the 10 p.m. restriction on the rest of the Baker City community, we are allowed use of the lights only until 9 p.m., which during the summer months virtually is unnecessary anyway. All of this seems not to have made a difference in the zeal of those who want the courts gone.
Let us address the allegations that tennis players engage in bad conduct and are disrespectful of the neighbors. None of these complaints were ever founded in fact. It is laughable to believe that players in their 50s, 60s and 70s are hooligans! Had the tournament organizers been made aware of instances of bad behavior, immediate action would have been taken. A visit to the courts would reveal signs are posted to encourage courtesy and respect, including observing speed limits and traffic laws.
Finally, the tennis events bring in significant revenue to the Baker City businesses. By one conservative estimate grass court players spend $150,000 per year in the Baker City area in lodging, restaurants and general shopping. This economic boost happens only in the summer, adds no pollution and only minimal stress to the city’s infrastructure. The grass courts bring people from all around the Pacific Northwest and beyond. These are mostly retired folks, eager to experience playing on grass, visiting a beautiful region and spending money in local businesses.