Bring on Bocce Ball: Park & Rec board likes plan for game court at La Jolla Rec Center

Every Wednesday morning, a group of about 45 people gather to play the time-honored (and Italian favorite) sport of bocce ball. Appropriately, they meet in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood.

One of them, La Jolla resident Vito Formica, is hoping to bring the sport a little closer to home and is behind the effort to get a bocce ball court installed at the La Jolla Rec Center.

“It’s easy to learn and a lot of fun. Once you’ve thrown one ball down the alley, you are experienced and can play with anybody. … I’ve played with people in their 90s and those who are 6 and 8 years old,” he said. “It’s a very popular sport and growing more so.”

There are bocce ball courts in some of San Diego’s community parks, including Morley Field in Balboa Park, and restaurant hot-spots such as Stone Brewing Company in Liberty Station in Point Loma.

Formica was joined by a handful of residents at the La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. (LJP&R) board meeting Sept. 27, where they pleaded for the addition of a bocce ball court at the La Jolla Rec Center. The LJP&R board voted to support the concept, and tasked Formica with researching the specifics and returning with a plan.

A conventional bocce ball court, he explained, is 14 feet wide and between 65 and 80 feet long. It is bounded by a wooden frame in an alley shape, and filled with dirt, decomposed granite or artificial turf. Given the limited amount of Rec Center space, the suggested placement is fronting the Rec Center, on the grass, parallel to the sidewalk on Draper Avenue.

Formica said the cost to install the court is $5,000-$10,000, but acting LJP&R chair Mary Coakley-Munk suggested certain costs could be mitigated by asking local Boy Scouts to construct the frame or getting donated decomposed granite from the City.

Logistically speaking, a set of bocce balls could be rented from the La Jolla Rec Center office, but those with a personal set of balls could bring their own.

Once constructed, Formica said, the benefits would be grand. “The bocce court would be in view of everyone who uses the Rec Center and would bring more senior citizens and children to the Rec Center,” he said. “Up to 12 people can play on one court at one time, and depending on the amount of players, a game could last 45 minutes to an hour. That’s time people would be spending here. We could host tournaments and bring many new people to the La Jolla Rec Center.”

Vito Formica (backed by other bocce ball enthusiasts) tells the La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. board, Sept. 27, that the installation of a bocce ball court at the La Jolla Rec Center would draw many new people and events to Center.
Vito Formica (backed by other bocce ball enthusiasts) tells the La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. board, Sept. 27, that the installation of a bocce ball court at the La Jolla Rec Center would draw many new people and events to Center. (Ashley Mackin)

LJP&R is in the midst of planning a massive playground renovation, but Coakley-Munk said she wants to start the bocce ball court installation as soon as possible.

“If it’s going to be a year or two before we proceed with playground construction, bocce ball (players) could have a court for use in that time, and draw more and new people in the short term. Let’s get as many things as we can done. A $5,000 investment wouldn’t be that bad if many people use it,” she said. “It would also give us a better sense of whether we even want to permanently incorporate a court on the playground. Is it really used that much or is it not working out?”

Bocce ball court updates will be presented at a future meeting.

In other LJP&R news:

Playground pieces under review: At the end of the meeting, the board discussed the playground renovation. Last month, LJP&R was given renderings for three playgrounds by architect Trace Wilson. Each offered different placement of the basketball courts and suggestions for what could be added in the remaining space. Some options included a water feature, coffee kiosk, history wall, additional sport courts and more.

However, before the board takes any action, Coakley-Munk said it needed to investigate these ideas one by one.

“We need to look at the elements that would compose each layout and the possible unforeseen consequences of each,” she said. “For the coffee cart, is it permitted? And what happens if the company that runs it goes out of business? For the water feature, would children be allowed/encouraged to play in it? If so, would we have to provide showers? If we do that, what would it do for the homeless population here?

“It’s nice to have all these ideas, but unless we’ve investigated what they mean, it doesn’t do anybody any good. And if we want to be responsible in proposing (to benefactors) what we want to do with our playground, we need to have information. Once we know what elements we want, we’ll know how to arrange for them.”

‘Friends’ group on the horizon? In light of a recent City meeting that addressed how Rec Center funds citywide are collected and distributed, LJP&R, Inc. is considering forming a “Friends” group to privately raise money for the La Jolla Rec Center .

Tyler Canales, area manager for the Pacific Beach and La Jolla Rec Centers, explained that City Attorney Mara Elliott looked at how San Diego Rec Councils were collecting and spending money, and determined that all money generated from permits and rental fees could be viewed as City money and as such would go directly to the City.

The resulting policy is still being finalized and will not go into effect for more than a year, he said.

“There are still a lot of questions,” Canales explained, “including what will happen with the money that currently sits in the LJP&R, Inc. general fund.”

Coakley-Munk noted a “significant amount” of what is in their general fund is from donations and grants, rather than fees and permits, and should not go to the City fund. Some suggested creating a Friends of La Jolla Rec Center group so there is a separate entity altogether, but the board did not take any action on the subject.

Program improvements: La Jolla Library branch manager Shaun Briley was on hand to offer suggestions to the board on how to grow Rec Center programming. He emphasized knowing the target market and exploring different community partnerships.

While he offered a list of possible lectures, fairs and classes LJP&R could implement, Coakley-Munk instructed each board member to generate an idea of their own to report at a future meeting.

More movies? Considering the success of the recent Movies in the Park event, at which “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” screened to 150 people, the board is looking at whether to host more movie nights. La Jolla Rec Center director Nicole Otjens said there are other Rec Centers that host five movie screenings a year.

— La Jolla Park & Recreation, Inc. next meets 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.