SAN RAMON -- Many of the basketball players in Central Park have heard about the new city center project and how it's supposed to become San Ramon's social and civic hub.
But as far as they are concerned, that place already exists -- at the 24-hour-a-day courts at San Ramon's Central Park. Unfortunately, the popular courts will be closed Sept. 2 to clear the way for the new $14 million City Hall building at the southeast corner of Central Park at Bollinger Canyon Road and Market Place.
Although the city's Parks and Community Services Commission said at its meeting Wednesday night that it plans to relocate the courts, likely to another area of Central Park, that won't happen anytime soon.
"This is the heart and soul of San Ramon," said Shaun Kapoor, 19, a San Ramon resident who lives down the street from the courts. "If you take this away, there is no place to hang out and enjoy. You literally see all these tons of people. People all the way from Concord and Oakland come here just to enjoy it."
The courts are among the few, if not only, 24-hours courts in the Bay Area and consequently very popular with players throughout the East Bay. It's common to see crowds of 25 to 75 people waiting to use the courts late into the nights and weekends, Kapoor said.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the new hall is scheduled for Sept. 9 at 5 p.m., but prep work for construction starts the first day the courts close, said Karen McNamara, the city's interim director of parks and community services.
Despite the signs that have been posted warning players of the closure, many at the courts Tuesday night said they hope something or someone will intervene to keep them open.
"Please don't take them away," said Shafik Samaha, 20, of San Ramon, basketball in hand. "C'mon, leave this place alone. ... This is not acceptable. So many people come here and are upset."
The parks commission gathered feedback on Wednesday night to help it decide where to relocate the courts, as well as whether it's best for the city to keep them open all night.
Shoaib Jawaid, 23, who leads a youth group at the San Ramon Valley Islamic Center in San Ramon, was the lone person from the community to speak about the courts at the meeting. On Friday nights, after evening prayer meetings, he said he often takes the youths in his group to the park and courts "to build a sense of character and community," he said. "It's a real source for people who are emotionally down and need a physical outlet."
To get rid of them, "it would be a big blow to people in my community," he said.
Even without a big outcry at the meeting, it was clear that commissioners understood the immense popularity of the site. The voted unanimously to ask city staff to provide relocation options that keep the courts in Central Park and stay open all hours.
"We should try to duplicate where it is now," said Commissioner David Ernest. "There's nothing wrong with what's there, so why change it? And they are filled at all times."
City staff plans to return in September and October with a set of recommended options. Public hearings will be held in November and December.
Commissioner Will Doerlich said he hoped that schedule would be accelerated -- and that perhaps the public meetings could be held near the courts themselves to better reach those most affected by the closure.
Among those is Arian Williams, 37, of Hayward, a Pacific Gas & Electric employee who was playing basketball Tuesday night. He said the closure would be a blow to the youths who play there and who are looking to stay out of trouble, and also to people who work at companies nearby and go there to play after work and during lunch.
"I don't think it's fair," he said. "It seems like they kind of just sprung it on us."
Williams' co-worker Justin McLeod, 28, of Dublin, said he enjoyed being able to show up and join a game with people he didn't know.
Kapoor said there is never any trouble at the courts.
"The main reason that it's so famous is there is fair play over here," he said. "There's good team spirit and sportsmanship. And that's why people feel safer out there -- and why people can come here at 4 a.m."
To provide feedback on the closure of the courts, email the parks division at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/joycetsainews.