Pools bond would preserve city’s quality of life

Nicole Lim/Staff

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Just a few days from now, a symbol of Berkeley’s commitment to a high quality of life will be smashed into dust and rubble, loaded onto trucks and hauled to a landfill.

Demolition is scheduled to begin within the coming week on the Warm Pool, which provided exercise and therapy to the elderly, the disabled, the injured and parents with young children from 1983 until it was padlocked in December.

The disappearance of this much-loved indoor public pool on the Berkeley High School campus should not be blamed on school administrators, who say they need the space for new gyms and classrooms to alleviate overcrowding. But this demolition — with no replacement and no other equivalent facility in the East Bay — is undeniably a sign that our community’s allegiance to health and recreation for all ages and all ability levels is fraying at the seams.

About a mile away, another sign of community decay is at Willard Middle School, where the outdoor public pool that had served South Berkeley residents since 1964 is now filled with dirt. Only some scraggly weeds stick up where generations of children splashed happily and learned to swim.

But there’s hope. Berkeley City Council is actively considering placing a bond measure on the November ballot to save the city’s municipal pools. The Warm Pool would be rebuilt at West Campus, Willard Pool would be dug out and renovated and King and West Campus outdoor pools would get needed repairs. The council is scheduled to vote June 26 on whether to green-light this measure for the November election, with final approval in July.

The prospect has already energized a grassroots organizing effort by schoolchildren, South Berkeley residents, the elderly, disabled, parents and swimmers from all across Berkeley. All of us in this coalition have a deep love and respect for the role that aquatics can play as a bulwark of public health and as a democratic focus of community life. We are excited by the chance to make this bond measure a reality, and we are looking forward to an election campaign that is inspiring and fun.

The bond measure’s initial price tag is $20 million, although we hope the City Council can be persuaded to economize on staff overhead and reduce the total cost. In any case, the investment will be a prudent step forward. Like any homeowner with a 50-year-old house that has never seen substantive repairs and now needs a major renovation, Berkeley residents now need to take out a collective loan and invest for the next half-century of continued access to pools for the people. No homeowners would allow the roof on their kids’ bedroom to cave in because of neglect and then would simply demolish that part of the house. Instead, we take care of our legacy and our children’s future. That’s just who we are, as individuals and as a community.

A similar bond measure with a somewhat higher cost failed by a whisker in the June 2010 primary election. Measure C received 62.2 percent of the vote, just under the two-thirds necessary to win. It was a good showing despite the low voter turnout of only 37 percent, which we believe skewed the results. In this November’s presidential election, turnout is expected to be more than 70 percent, thus triggering the political rule of thumb that larger turnouts favor community investment initiatives such as Berkeley’s pools.

Ironically, despite the city’s tough fiscal situation, now is an excellent time to invest in the pools. Bond interest rates are at historic lows, and because of the city’s low level of bonded debt and the relatively recession-proof local economy, Berkeley has a Standard & Poor’s bond credit rating of AA+, putting the city in the highest 1 percent of cities nationwide. As a result of all this, Berkeley can now borrow capital funds at rock-bottom cost.

Berkeley’s local tax rates may seem high, but they are on par with our neighboring cities. According to a city manager presentation to the City Council on Feb. 28, the citywide tax burden is only slightly higher than Oakland’s and slightly lower than Albany’s.

As has been widely discussed, the city’s annual budget has a growing problem with unfunded liabilities, partly because of soaring pension obligations. This must be addressed promptly, and the city says it is attempting to do so. But to equate that problem with the city’s solid foundation for long-term capital investments, as some people have attempted, is to compare apples and oranges.

Many years ago, in the middle of the Great Depression, a few civic-minded Berkeley citizens with a long view stepped forward to help create Tilden Park. It was seen by some others at the time as a foolhardy waste of scarce public funds. But generations later, we are all infinitely grateful for that early generation’s wisdom and generosity.

Let us all be so wise and so generous in 2012. The pools are a legacy that will greatly enrich our own lives and those of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Robert Collier, Ed Gold and Maggie Knutson are co-chairs of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, berkeleypools.org, which is organizing the effort for a pools bond measure on the November ballot. Gold also is chair of the city’s Commission on Aging and is a member of the city’s Commission on Disability; Knutson is a fifth-grade teacher at John Muir Elementary School.

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  • yo mama

    Glad to know we now know the real cure of the great depression…

  • Karen Olson

    Please put the bond measure on the November ballot!  Berkeley needs another chance to vote for our pools.

  • I_h8_disqus

    Berkeley is not “relatively recession-proof.”  If it was, we would not have the financial issues we are having with the city.  I am almost tempted to vote for this bond, but the city does not seem to have done a good job saving for its needs.  You should not need to take out a loan for renovations.  The city should have been planning for renovations and building a fund to handle needed renovations.  Bonds are an example of a poorly run city, and I know that someplace down the road, the city will start crying poverty when they can’t pay for this bond.

  • David

    There is no indication of any such property tax survey noted on the record for  Berkeley City Council meeting of February 28th.    Nor can it be found on the City Managers web page. Please provide a link. 


    • Robert Collier

      See p. 3 here: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Clerk/Level_3_-_City_Council/2012/02Feb/2012-02-28_Item_31_Discussion_and_Direction_Regarding.pdf

  • South Berkeley

    Please, please vote no on the pool bonds.  Berkeley has over $1 billion in unfunded liabilities.  The “little ones” who theoretically are going to be served by this pool will be too busy working two jobs to pay off these bonds in future years.  

  • Calipenguin

    Don’t fall for it.  In almost every community that has a public swimming pool, the 40 and over adults have taken over most of the time slots for lap swimming exercises.  Very little time is left for children, even though the bond backers claim it’s for the benefit of children.  Children get 9 – 12 on Saturdays and 12 – 4 on Sundays, while adult lap swimmers hog the rest of the time slots.  Adult swimmers put pressure on the city to devote more pool time to adults, while the rest of the city pays taxes for pool maintenance and lifeguards.

    • Maggie Knutson

      If you are correct, and let’s assume you are, what should be the community response? Fewer pools? What I know is that the many, many people I’ve talked to about Willard pool have expressed extreme regret and sadness that today’s youth in south Berkeley don’t have the same access to swimming that they had, or that their older children had. I’ve heard so many stories about individuals and families walking to Willard from some ways away for swim lessons, meeting up with neighbors for free swim, elderly water aerobics, etc. If there is a scarcity of pools, our response should not be to limit access, but to expand access for children, and all Berkeley residents. 

      • If the pools are that much of a priority, then maybe the citizens and public servants of Berkeley should consider WHY they can’t afford them. Given that your city has a reputation of jumping on to every silly progressive left-wing crusade that comes down the pike, including the outright promotion of homelessness and vagrancy as an accepted lifestyle, ever consider that the resources committed to “help” these people might compete for the same funding that others would like to see dedicated for the recreation and enjoyment of taxpaying citizens and their immediate families?

        Communities in the past used to be able to build, maintain, and operate public recreational facilities such as parks, swimming pools, and playgrounds because they practiced some semblance of fiscal responsibility – in other words, not wasting money feeding the egos or fantasies of narcissistic activists who use local government as a vehicle to “change the world”. Why don’t you think about that a bit while you’re whining and wailing over the closure of these pools?

    • Susan

       The four pools that we hope will be on the Nov ballot are all on school property.  Somehow i can’t imagine school officials asking their students to stand and watch as 40 year olds do laps in their pool.  i think you must be thinking of cities with municipal pools which maybe are a different scenario.   Of the four pools in question, two are at West Campus, one at King Jr High and one at Willard Elementary School.  I’m not sure adults will even be allowed on school property during school hours.  Please get your facts straight before you critique this issue.

      • I_h8_disqus

        These are public pools when school is not in session.  That is the whole point of the renovating MUNICIPAL pools.  These are used by the public and not just students.

  • Gary Marquard

    I wonder which folks “anon” refers to. Here’s a quote from someone speaking for the 250-member
    US Swim School Association about what makes for effective swim lessons for the  general population.

    …Keep the water temperature warm. 
    90-94 ideal, says the United States 
    Swim School Association, an organization of over 250 
    swim schools nationwide. Because of the liquid 
    medium, a pool feels about 20 degrees cooler than air 
    temperature to a child. A 90 degree pool is like 70 
    degree air. The focus should be on learning well, and 
    shivering and blue lips make for less effective retention. So, it sounds like 92 is an ideal water temperature for EVERYONE, and especiallypre-school beginners, to learn to  swim. In fact, even Berkeley’s YMCA holdsALL their beginner classes in their warmest (90-92 degree)  pool; but that pool isbarely waist deep for an adult, and doesn’t provide enough buoyancy to be verygood for therapy for adults.A new municipal warm pool would be ideal for both these  invaluable public goods:water habituation and swim learning — reducing the risk of drowning community-wide –and  therapy for rehab of injuries to the able, for health maintenance for the aging,and, oh yeah, the disabled. And those of us who can’t move well enough to generateour own heat in the water — need at least 92. Folks paying for lessons to learn to swimin a perfectly comfortable place can make the cost of heating affordable.

    • anon

      that article is titled “Swim Tips for the Little Ones,” not the general population. 

      If you want to *swim*, you can swim in a waist-deep pool; if you want to *stand* in warm water for therapy, use a spa. Or propose a 20′ x 20′ pool with the proper height, etc. for people to walk in place.

      There are plenty of common sense alternatives that, combined, accommodate a wide variety of people. A warm pool may have been a convenient way of grouping those various needs when an extra facility existed, but is that convenience worth $20m? And if it was, why didn’t any other local communities copy the idea when it was around at Berkeley HS?

      What’s tragic is that the proponents of the warm pool are now holding the improvements at Willard–which are far less expensive–hostage to this boondoggle for a second time. 

      • Gary Marquard

        Swim teaching does tend to focus on small children. But the vast majority of private swim schools —
        whose profitability depends on doing things right –teach EVERYBODY, all ages and levels of students
        short of coaching for competition,  in 90-94 degree water. Here’s a representative quote, from one
        among dozens of such schools in California.  

          American Swim Academy, Our indoor pools  
        are heated to a comfortable 92° and have been designed 
        specifically for swim instruction. 
        We have schools in Fremont, Newark, Livermore and Dublin, California 

        • anon

          seems the Berkeley Y is doing just fine teaching lessons at 88-90. Some other facility advertises 92. You should conduct experiments to see if (A) the water is actually kept at that temperature, and (B) if you can tell the difference. 

          • Gary Marquard

            I just wrote you that the Berkeley YMCA  teaches All their beginner lessons in their 90-92
            degree pool, and you ignored that in your reply about the quote just covering “little ones.”
            Now you ignore it again. Do you pay any attention to anything at all that you can’t twist to get it to support your bias. And it’s not  “some other facility”: it’s dozens of private schools —
            almost all that teach in their own pools and can choose the temperature for themselves.
            I use the example of private schools because they have to be self-supporting to stay in
            business, while a Berkeley warm pool has been portrayed as especially costly  to operate.
            It wouldn’t be if it gave lessons and was well run. I also use the private schools as
            examples because you can go to the member directory at the US Swim School Association
            and check what temperature they use, for the ones that have a website that gives that info. I have done that, and have dozens of quotes like the one I gave for the American Swim Academy. Private schools generally can afford only one pool, so they choose the temperature they think best FOR ALL TEACHING BUT COMPETITION. And that’s not 82 
            or 88, it’s 90-94.

            And OF COURSE we check temperatures and can tell the difference. REALLY we wouldn’t make such a big issue over it if it didn’t matter. Think whether you could detect a difference if  your body temperature was 102.6 rather than 98.6.

  • anon

    The Berkeley Y has a pool that’s heated to 88-90 degrees. These folks insist on 92. That’s your $20 million right there. 

    • Swimmer

      The Y warm pool is a * tiny * pool (3-1/2 feet!) that is used almost exclusively for swim lessons. It is loud (and filthy) and no substitute for a usable pool. The free swim hours are minimal, and the Y makes som much money off swim lessons that there will not be many hours for free swim or exercises for adults.

      • anon

        Okay, here is the Grace’s Pool schedule for today, Friday. 8:30am-1:00pm
        Adult Open Exercise / Lap Swim. 1:00-1:45pm Deep Water Pilates. 1:50 – 3:30pm
        Camp. 4:30-7:00pm Adult Open Exercise / Lap Swim. 7:00-8:00pm* Open Swim (Session I)

        Grace’s Pool is 20 yards long with a shallow end of 3’ 6” feet and a deep end of 7 feet. The temperature averages 88 – 90 ºF. It is equipped with a hydraulic swim lift

        • Gary Marquard

          “Swimmer” obviously is not  talking about Grace’s pool but the small, shallow  warmer
          90-92 degree pool, which to my mind was obviously  made so shallow to be used for kids.
          Not good for therapy use for grownups.

          Friday is an exception to the rule that a lot of the scheduling is for lessons. After-school
          hours on other weekdays are chock-a-block with lessons in both Grace’s and the shallow pool.