Berkeley City Council to explore funding options for city’s pools

Katherine Chen/Staff
Berkeley High School’s pool, which many elderly prefered, closed in December.

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Next Tuesday’s Berkeley City Council meeting may mark the beginning of a revitalization of the city’s warm therapeutic pools, nearly five months after the city’s last warm pool was closed down.

The council will consider a recommendation at its May 1 meeting that deals with the city’s efforts to build a new warm water pool in the city that serves the disabled and senior citizens. The city, which is in the process of launching a second survey that gauges Berkeley residents’ feelings toward the new pool, could possibly vote to place a bond measure on whether to build the pool on the city’s November ballot.

If passed, the prospective bond measure would provide the necessary capital to pay for the construction and completion of a new pool as an addition to the original West Campus Pool site by 2015.

In order to afford the cost of the new pool — which is currently $10,500,000 — the city would tax homeowners approximately $26 per year, according to the recommendation.

Community members like Karl Reeh, president of the Le Conte Neighborhood Association, stress that warm water pools play a vital role as a public service in the city.

“Part of the value of (a warm water pool) is that it helps people that need that kind of exercise psychologically as well as physically,” Reeh said.

Much to Reeh’s dismay, the city’s last warm water pool at Berkeley High School shut down last December as previous attempts to save the pools failed.

Due to its therapeutic nature, the pool at Berkeley High had been a popular destination for many elderly and disabled citizens for exercise and other health reasons, Reeh said.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said the city’s senior citizens are disproportionately suffering from the loss of their therapeutic pools in the city.

“People are hurting,” said Arreguin. “We cannot turn our back on our seniors and disabled community.”

Residents have had to relocate to King Pool in North Berkeley or to the pool at the city’s YMCA, both of which are not considered fully functioning therapeutic pools, according to Arreguin.

According to the recommendation, the King pool heats only up to 82 degrees — whereas the Berkeley High pool would heat up to 92 degrees.

The King pool is also intended for multipurpose use by a much wider audience of poolgoers such as competitive swimmers, while the YMCA pool is not deep enough nor does it have the ability to sufficiently accommodate the number of people who want to use it, according to the recommendation.

This is not the first time that a bond measure has been proposed to create a warm water pool in the city. Measure C, a similar bond measure that was put up for a vote in June 2010 but failed to meet a two-thirds majority, proposed $22.5 million for the construction of new pools and the renovation of existing pools in the city.

Arreguin said that because this year’s city elections will take place during the year of a presidential election, a higher voter turnout could contribute to the current measure passing.

However, the results of the March survey do cast some doubt as to whether or not the measure will pass come November. City resident support for the measure on questions from the survey ranged from 39 to 55 percent — which may not be enough support to pass the city’s two-third requirement for votes, according to survey results.

Though Councilmember Gordon Wozniak views the warm water pool as a strong public service, he said a new pool was not justified in light of the current economy.

“40 percent of the (pool users) are not from Berkeley, and yet we are getting no support from any of the other cities,” said Wozniak. “These are not good times to ask Berkeley to take on the sole responsibility.”

Jaehak Yu covers city government.