David Whittaker is the guru of Mission Beach volleyball. When he moved here seven years ago, he recalls, there were only two volleyball courts in Mission Beach, both on the bay side at the foot of San Luis Rey and Cohasset courts. Only the Cohasset court had a net up at all times. Whittaker says he called the city’s parks and recreation department to find out why there were no other courts, and was told that while the department designates courts on its master plan, it was up to individual enthusiasts of the sport to erect poles and nets. So armed with a map detailing the allowed sites, Whittaker says, he set about putting courts on his own at an average cost of seventy-five dollars each. Three years ago, he organized an informal group, the Cohasset Volleyball Association, to raise additional funds; today, Whittaker says, the group has 140 members, each contributing annual dues of ten dollars, and Mission Beach now has a total of eight fully equipped volleyball courts, four on the ocean side, and four fronting the bay.
This summer is also the first time that Whittaker’s efforts to boost volleyball participation have met some serious opposition. Several weeks ago, a group of bayfront residents complained to the Mission Bay Committee, a twenty-member subcommittee of the San Diego Parks and Recreation board, that the increase in volleyball games has resulted in a variety of problems, such as littering, urination on private property, and excessive noise. Residents singled out as the leading trouble spot the bayfront court at the foot of San Luis Rey Court, which they argued was illegally situated twenty feet north of its approved location; they asked the committee to close down all four bayfront courts, and their endeavors were promptly rewarded when the committee agreed to discuss the issue at its June 4 meeting (the group meets bimonthly on the first Tuesday of the month).
Whittaker, upon hearing of this, immediately issued a call to arms. The week before the meeting, he says, he passed around three petitions favoring retention of the courts: one, which garnered thirty-nine signatures, of residents near the bayside courts; another, with ten signatures, of those who lived by the oceanfront courts; and a third signed by 179 volleyball enthusiasts who regularly played at the eight Mission Beach courts.
When members of the Mission Bay Committee gathered for the June 4 meeting, they were met by more than one hundred angry volleyballers fearful that their favorite pastime would be threatened. “When I got there, the room was so packed there were no chairs,” says committee chairman Steve Alexander. “The meeting, which I expected would last the normal hour and a half, took more than three hours; I quickly polled the audience as to how they felt about the courts, and only three were against them while more than one hundred were in favor – and when the odds are so overwhelmingly one-sided, you have to deal with that.”
As a result, Alexander says, the board members not only voted in favor of keeping all existing courts open, they voted to review the entire court allocation procedure “and work toward increasing the number of courts on the beach rather than closing any down,” possibly even with the city footing the bill. To placate residents’ complaints, Alexander adds, the board decided to move the San Luis Rey court to its proper site at the foot of San Luis Rey, and by the end of the meeting only one resident was still in opposition.
Still, the volleyball war may not be entirely over. A handful of residents have hinted that they may continue the fight against the bayfront courts before other city agencies, and last Friday one of the two volleyball poles at the bayfront San Gabriel court was found unceremoniously uprooted and lying on its side.