Torrey Pines High School tennis courts locked due to misuse

After more than 30 years, the Torrey Pines High School tennis courts are closed to public use, leaving many locals frustrated that their weekend recreation has been taken away.

Steve Ma, associate superintendent of the San Dieguito Union High School District, said the courts, where private instructors have been using the teaching private lessons, have been locked due to misuse.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate that private instructors are monopolizing the courts,” Ma said. “They’re making money off our tennis courts.”

He said there also has been some vandalism on the courts, primarily from skateboarders marking and “chewing up” the surface. Just two years ago, the school district spent close to $70,000 to resurface the courts and keeping them locked against inappropriate usage is a way to protect their investment, Ma said.

“There has been some misuse of the courts in the past and that’s created a situation that spoils it for everyone else, who for the most part have been very respectful,” said Ma, himself a tennis player. “I wish we could find a way where we could monitor the use a little better and police what happens.”

Shelley Susman, a Carmel Valley resident and advocate for free tennis, agrees that it’s not right for private instructors to make money on the school’s courts but said that the reasons to bolt up the courts aren’t strong enough.

“I think it’s a travesty,” Susman said. “There are too many holes in their reasons and they need to open these courts.”

Susman said she has not seen any damage from skateboarders and that she has seen them riding all over the school.

“Do they shut down the school and start charging for education when vandalism occurs?” Susman asked.

Keeping the public locked out of Torrey Pines makes it that much harder for people to find a spot to play.

“My main gripe is that there’s less and less courts for use,” said Roth.

Roth describes his weekends as somewhat of a tennis odyssey, looking for a court to play on. He and his children always head to Torrey Pines courts first, where the eight courts are always heavily used and there are often people waiting. If they don’t get a court they head to the Carmel Valley Recreation Center, four public courts that are run by Carmel Valley Tennis which charges a $10 an hour fee.

“Sometimes we can’t get on a court because tennis pros are out there,” Roth said. “All I want to do is get on a court so we head into Del Mar.”

The sole public courts in Del Mar are two by the train tracks and they are almost always full.

Roth said he knows people will say the easy answer is to join a tennis club like Pacific Athletic Club. But what if a family can’t afford it?

“My issue is with the privatization of public facilities, people being entrepreneurial with public courts,” Roth said. “If residents can’t get on a court, I think that’s wrong.”

Nearby Poway Union School District keeps all its high school’s tennis courts open for public use when school is not in session or when tennis teams are not using them. A group of five or more needs to apply for a facilities request, which involves a fee.

Ma said having the Torrey Pines courts locked on the weekends is the same practice employed at Canyon Crest Academy and La Costa Canyon.

Only San Dieguito Academy is different as the district has entered into an agreement with the city of Encinitas. Through a joint-use arrangement the city pays for all court maintenance and even installed court lights there.

Ma said he thinks the situation at Torrey Pines could be different if they had some kind of joint-use agreement with the city of San Diego and if they could recognize that the courts are a valuable public benefit to help maintain.

“The city has never done that with a high school facility,” Ma said.

Susman is currently in the process of starting a nonprofit called Tennis for Everyone and said she could work on getting an agreement with the city or perhaps find a private citizen to fund court maintenance.

“I really think though that the school needs to show good faith and open the courts,” Susman said. “If they do that, the help will come.”