Last weekend, a group called the McNear Tennis Club spent about 100 hours cleaning and filling the cracks that ran across the McNear Park tennis courts.
Repairing or replacing the dilapidated courts is one of many parks projects that the cash-strapped city has struggled to complete in recent years. Renovating them would have been funded under Measure X, a parcel tax to fund parks improvements that a group called Petaluma Friends of Recreation tried, unsuccessfully, to pass last fall.
When that measure failed by a narrow margin, it was unclear how many of the projects it proposed funding — like installing new tennis courts at McNear Park, building the long-planned East Washington Park, and repairing the city's two aquatic facilities — would move forward.
But as time has passed, neighborhood groups and local nonprofits have stepped forward to fill some of the gaps.
Such was the case with the McNear Tennis Club last weekend, as members of the informal group knelt over the fissured courts in their neighborhood park to clean the cracks, fill them with mortar and apply a new coat of paint.
The club consists of about 20 to 25 members, ages 14 to 80-something, who play regularly on the neighborhood courts. It's a motley group, which has a "chairman of the board" and "court psychologist" called Dr. Z (he's not a real doctor). It's led by a "self-appointed president for life," Mark Sturges, whose home, located near the park, is also the group's unofficial clubhouse.
"The courts have always had pretty good sized cracks," said Sturges, who has used the park for more than 10 years. He believes the old courts were probably built so long ago that they never had a proper foundation, causing them to need frequent maintenance. "The city used to resurface them every three to four years, he said, but somewhere along the line they just ran out of money."
The group took it upon itself once before to mend the cracks, and were hopeful that Measure X would provide the money needed to rebuild the courts. But after the measure failed, and the cracks sat unrepaired, the group decided to take action.
"One of the exciting things for me about our little tennis group is that it shows people are taking more pride, more ownership in their parks," Sturges said.
He added that the group was especially motivated to repair the courts by the success of its youngest member, 14-year-old Kim Garcia. Garcia has been training at McNear with her father and coach, Berto Garcia, for years, and Sturges sees in her the makings of a star.