Robert Collier lives in North Berkeley and is co-chair of the Berkeley Pools Campaign. Following Tuesday’s City Council decision to approve a June ballot measure on pools, he wrote this commentary for Berkeleyside:

As the worsening California fiscal crisis finally starts to hit home in Berkeley, city voters will have the chance to defend our quality of life in a very specific, tangible way – by saving the city’s municipal swimming pools.

Last Tuesday, the City Council voted unanimously to approve a $21.3 million ballot measure for the June 8 primary election ballot. The measure would rehab and modernize the three outdoor pools at King Park, Willard Park and West Campus and would build a new indoor Warm Pool at West Campus. It also would provide a fixed stream of $900,000 annually in extra operating funds to protect programs and hours at the new and improved pools.

With two of Berkeley’s four pools scheduled to close permanently in the next year and budget cuts endangering the remaining hours and programs, it’s a now or never choice.

The ballot measure is the result of a years-long effort by Berkeley swimmers, parents and children to save their beloved yet tattered pools. As co-chair of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, which is leading the campaign to pass the measure, I’m one of many who believe this issue is much more than just a matter of swimming. The pools provide a lifeline for all ages and walks of life, from six-month-old babies to the elderly and handicapped. From swim lessons to lap swimming, family swim, physical therapy, and the Barracudas and Masters teams, the pools are a low-cost community resource for thousands of Berkeley residents.

On a summer day, there’s no place more full of laughter than Willard or West Campus pools, with their remarkably multi-ethnic mix of kids from all over South and West Berkeley. Or any morning before dawn, there’s no place busier than the steaming waters of King Pool as scores of Masters swimmers train for their next meet. And every day at the Warm Pool, disabled adults and kids roll their wheelchairs or hobble awkwardly up to the edge, then transform into graceful swimmers once they hit the water.

But the pools also are a study in deferred maintenance and long-term decay. All are near or past the end of their natural lives. The three outdoor pools at King, Willard and West Campus were built in the mid-1960s. They are springing leaks, their pumps and heaters are inefficient, and their locker rooms are in poor shape. Willard is scheduled for permanent closure in July 2010 because of budget cuts. The 92-degree Warm Pool, which serves seniors, adults in rehab, disabled people of all ages, and parents with toddlers, will lose its location at Berkeley High School’s decrepit Old Gym when that building is demolished in 2011 and replaced by new classrooms and athletic facilities for students.

In particular, the Warm Pool says volumes about Berkeley’s unique values and identity. For the past two decades, the Warm Pool has been a hidden gem, one of the largest, best pools for the elderly and disabled in the United States. Unlike most cities that have recreation systems almost exclusively for the able-bodied, Berkeley views the elderly, disabled and people in rehab as having the same rights to recreation as all others. In fact, Berkeley has a proud record as the birthplace and nexus of the U.S. disablity rights movement. The Ed Roberts Campus, a multi-service center for the disabled that is under construction next to Ashby BART station, is scheduled to open in April, and it will serve as a one-stop headquarters for disability rights. A new Warm Pool would be a fitting complement to the Ed Roberts Campus.

Now, with Berkeley High planning to evict the Warm Pool, some anti-tax conservatives have tried to use the issue as a battering ram to further their political battle against the School District. Separately, some architectural preservationists have raised legitimate concerns about the possibility of saving the landmarked Old Gym. But the overwhelming majority of Warm Pool users and other Berkeley swimmers have refused to get sucked into a conflict that is ultimately against the city’s schoolchildren. The School District owns the other pools sites (King, Willard and West Campus) and swimmers believe it should be treated as an ally, not an enemy.

Some people also argue that now is not the time to be increasing the city’s tax burden. But to blame the current recession gets the problem exactly backward. Now more than ever, there is no alternative. With two pools closing and the city going off a budgetary cliff, the ballot measure is the only way to save this vital part of our community. The ballot measure would cost about $58 per year for the average Berkeley home, calculated on the basis of a 1,900 square foot house. For many Berkeleyites, it’s a fair deal. In a public opinion survey conducted in January by David Binder Associates of 400 likely Berkeley voters, the pools ballot measure was favored by 67 percent, exactly the two-thirds requirement for victory.

Just like our predecessors did when they built the pools decades ago, it’s our turn to pay for a long-term investment in health, recreation and quality of life for ourselves, our families, and several more generations of Berkeley residents to come. It’s a legacy in which we, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to take great pride.

Photos courtesy the Berkeley Pools Campaign

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29 Comments

  1. After reading all of this (which I did to figure out how to vote), I’m voting against the measure. Those against presented very good arguments. (Disclosure: the firm I work for would stand to GAIN if the measure passes….) Thanks to all who weighed in, as you filled in all the details that I needed. I LOVE berkeleyside.com!

  2. I agree with everything Maureen Burke has written. The answer to her question is in the plans I produced for the Old Gym renovation which can be accessed in a link in Collier’s article “legitimate concerns about saving the landmarked gym,” then “click here” to see full size plans. Burke commented that “It was a great article”, when it appeared on January 19, 2010.

    In my plans there would be 11 standard size classrooms, 2 over sized and 5 smaller, for a total of 18. At various times the BUSD has said that 10 to 14 classrooms should be provided in the new building. I don’t know how many classrooms were in the building that burned and I can’t find out what the school district’s architects have been told to provide.

    The BUSD program also calls for a new gym with high ceilings. I propose that this would be achieved by removing the floor of the North gym, making a wonderfull two story daylighted space with stadium seating and street level access. Aside from necessary seismic work, this would be the only srtructural modification necessary.

    I would be happy to meet with Maureen Burke to go over the plans in detail.

    For the first time, I too, will be voting against the June and fall bond issues.

  3. “It turns out that the existing smaller upper gymnasiums will provide more than the needed number of classroms, all with soaring ceilings and natural light.”

    What do you base this on? Measure AA, which has already been spent, promised to replace the classrooms at Berkeley High that were destroyed when the B building burned down. Do you have a count of how many classrooms were destroyed and have you compared that number to how many classrooms you are talking about above?

    I certainly agree with you that the greener alternative is always to use an existing facility.

    But the Berkeley High campus is there to serve the students and teachers there. Period. All facility decisions should be made with this intent in mind.

    I encourage people who think there’s no overcrowding there to look at where classes meet (hint: check out lobbies and hallways) and see how classrooms have been cut in half and count the kids standing because there aren’t enough desks.

    Your point about the bond measures is timely. I for one, for the first time in my life, will vote against both because the city and the district have failed in the most basic of fiduciary responsibilities. I’m still waiting for BUSD to admit that Measure AA promised new classrooms at BHS and yet all the money is gone. The very first line in the ballot measure and the bond book was for BHS classrooms. Yet there is no concerted effort on the part of either the city or the school district to require annual audits of bond monies, or require REAL oversight. Until they create real financial oversight tools, neither entity should be handed any more money to fritter away again.

    How can citizens possibly trust such organizations? More money? I don’t think so.

  4. What happens if the June Pools Bond issue and the Fall BUSD Bond issue both fail? Will the BUSD reconsider the decision to demolish the Old Gym? Please look at the link “legitimate concerns about saving the landmarked gym” in Collier’s article. It leads to a previous Berkeleyside article where I describe how retrofitting the Old Gym and existing Warm Water pool is a more sensible solution both from an ecomomic and environmental point of view.

    The BUSD never asked their architects to investigate the adaptability of the existing building to house their program of needed classrooms and some athletic facilities. It turns out that the existing smaller upper gymnasiums will provide more than the needed number of classroms, all with soaring ceilings and natural light.

    Collier writes that “The Warm Pool says volumes about Berkeley’s unique values and identity… hidden gem…largest, best pools for elderly and disabled…” And it’s there, and paid for! He earlier talks about the “decrepit Old Gym”. It has indeed suffered from deferred maintenance, but it has good bones, and the proposed uses would require only minor structural changes.

    The Greenest building is one that already exists.

  5. So it’s Mello Roos CFD bond. That means the charge will remain in perpetuity on our tax bills, even after the bond is paid off. The gift that keeps on taking. In the interests of transparency, it would have been helpful if the original post had included this information.

    It’s disturbing that after seeing the results of the poll, the city went with the lowest budget because the $29M option was approved by only 33% of poll participants. So they needed a lowball option and that makes it even more likely that the money will not be adequate for project completion.

    It would also be helpful to see the budget projections if there’s a link.

  6. Robert,

    I don’t think anyone has questioned the legality of the bond and I don’t think questions of equity have been invoked in *quite* the sense to which you respond. (Nor do I agree that sq. footage taxation is more equitable than assessed value taxation, but that’s another story.)

    Rather, it’s just the financing of the thing. Here’s a different way to say what Maureen is saying (though, not to put words in her mouth – any flaws here are my fault):

    We’ll (per the proposition) borrow $22M at something probably between %4 and %5 interest. Of that, we’ll be spending $.9M a year on operating cost shortfalls (relative to fees and tax revenues). $.9M is slightly north of %4 of $22M so the cost of this $22M loan to the city is something like %8 to %9 per year. That’s pretty expensive money, for a city. Sure, it’s cheaper than your average credit card, but not my enough to make this all that comfortable.

    Worse, the proposed uses (operating and capital development on the pools) are, as commenter tizzielish’s comments illustrate, not exactly going to be revenue generators for the city anytime soon. And as Maureen points out, even if you have faith that the capital improvements would help justify the expensive borrowing, there’s solid reason to lack faith that the capital improvements will actually become manifest in proportion to the $22M.

    One might counter all of that by arguing that, nevertheless, we’re in an economic crisis and the stimulus benefit of this borrowing and spending by government is critical to recovery. Yet, that seems highly unlikely since the pools are not a major employer and any capital improvement that occurs is unlikely to much stimulate Berkeley employment levels and Berkeley business revenues.

    So the net effect would be to borrow $22M and increase the deficit and debt of the City at an expensive rate of effective interest.

    I think that tizzielish has it about right: the (much loved, by some) pools suffer not from a temporary cash flow problem or even an unavoidable capital depreciation problem as from a long history of mismanagement. Throwing good money after bad without changing the systemic causes of the problems can only make the problem worse.

  7. To the commenters questioning the $900,000 per year in extra operating expenses — This ballot measure is not a General Obligation bond, but instead a Mello Roos Community Facilities District. The former is legally limited to capital expenses only, while the latter can provide both capital and operating expenses. Unlike a GO bond, which is taxed on the basis of assessed property value, a Mello Roos is taxed on the basis of house square footage. The total $58 per house for our pools measure includes both a capital cost section and an operating cost section, and it is calculated on the basis of the Berkeley average size — 1,900 square feet. The GO bonds’ taxes are much more unequal because the legacy of Prop. 13 means the average assessed value in Berkeley is only $350,000. As a result, residents who bought their house in the past decade would pay dramatically higher amounts in taxes for a GO bond than their neighbors who bought in previous decades.

    So the Mello Roos method both is more equitable than a GO bond and also acts as an investment guarantee for taxpayers. Our pools measure is certain to provide adequate operating funds to maintain hours and programs, no matter how bad the fiscal meltdown becomes.

  8. I was trying to give a Panglossian scenario to be fair and also did not include any transaction costs. So even with this overly rosy estimate, there’s no way this pool bond measure can generate an annual stream of $900K.

    But this is small potatoes compared to the upcoming BUSD bond measure. I hope everyone will remember the boondoggle of Measure AA in 2000, the $116 million BUSD bond measure whose ballot statement begins:
    “To repair, upgrade and add new classrooms to address overcrowding and facilitate reduced class sizes at Berkeley High School….”

    The orange book for the bond measure includes at the very top of the list of expenditures, “Berkeley High School–Add Classrooms–$19.3 million. ” There are fewer classrooms today than when this bond measure passed.

    And to really rub salt into the wound, Nancy Riddle, current BUSD board member, wrote in a 10/17/2000 letter to the editor at the Daily Planet: “The details of Measure AA and BB have been worked out by experienced staff with the direction of superintendent and administration. These plans are subject to oversight by citizen advisory committees. Funds are audited by an outside independent CPA firm annually. Besides these layers of review, expenditures and plans must be approved by the School Board. There is no delegation of this ultimate responsibility. We elect the School Board and they are accountable to us.”

    Should we laugh or cry as we read that last sentence? There’s never been a GAAP audit of Measure AA funds, only one “report” that was done last year after pressure was applied to the school board. Now the money is gone from Measure AA bond funds and there are no new classrooms built at Berkeley High. I hope people remember this painful episode when they think about giving these people any more money, no matter what they promise.

    Apparently Julie Holcomb, who has advised some of us parents to stop our “senseless tantrumming” while she cheerleads for BUSD, is running along with Nancy Riddle and Karen Hemphill for the school board this fall. Her recent award from the school board was probably part of the plan for her campaign, since she seems to be a member of the current cohort. I encourage interested parties to ask Holcomb, Riddle et al, to explain the disposition of Measure AA funds, to explain why there are fewer classrooms today at Berkeley High than there were before Measure AA passed, and to explain why we should pay twice for those classrooms.

  9. Maureen,

    One reply and one question for you on some minor points:

    The question first: I’m not sophisticated in my understanding of financing but you suggest that $18M from the $22M bond can be set aside to generate a $900K operating budget at 5% ROR. Hey, the math even checks out on that (18 * .05). Got it. But: (a) isn’t 5% ROR a bit optimistic these days for any fund of that size; (b) don’t you have to *discount* that 5% (at least for a few decades) by the amount of interest due on those bonds? (c) don’t you have to discount it further (though in a harder to measure way) because of its impacts on the future costs of borrowing by the City?

    I mean, you argued that bonds are not properly for operating expenses but I think you’ve *understated* the strength of your case.

    The reply: You suggest that some non-property owners are likely to feel that when they raise property taxes they’re “sticking it to the rich” when, in fact, not a few property owners are struggling.

    To your observation I would add that renters should also be aware of the ways in which they also absorb higher property taxes. Five particular ways of note come to mind. First, because of vacancy decontrol and the high availability of “transient” renters from the Cal campus community, rises in property taxes are likely to be reflected in rent levels for new move-ins. Second, in properties dominated by long-term, rent-controlled tenants, higher property taxes are likely to be reflected in reduced service (such as maintenance) from landlords and in some cases stepped up maneuvering to bring about evictions for cause. Third, higher property taxes work against local business development, reducing employment opportunities and generally raising the local price of day to day living. Fourth, the political backlash that results from unabashed spending combined with raising property taxes is often more unabashed spending combined with raising of fees and penalties (such as for parking citations).

    In short, renters should be skeptical of raising property taxes not only for the humane reason that many property owners are not particularly flush, but also for the purely selfish reason that there is no such thing as segregated taxation and renters will “feel the pain” of higher taxes right alongside everyone else.

  10. Dan, why fund a bond measure when you already agree it is not a good plan?. Tell city council to draft a better approach. What is the urgency? Send it back to staff and reconsider unexplored options. Did anyone consider building the warm pool in the basement of Ed Roberts’s campus?

    1. A long range infrastructure plan would be a welcome start
    2. An auditor’s report evaluating the competing costs of doing city business “Berkeley style”.

    For instance: what did it cost taxpayers in police services at 1610 Oregon St over two decades? Add in the administrative and legal cost of controlling the community’s demands for abatement action. What is the total for ambulance services to that address? Taxpayers picked up the bill routinely when paramedics were called to lift one of elders back into bed. He would have been better cared for in assisted living facility and taxpayers would have been spared enabling the drug dealers funded as care givers.
    Gee could those thousands or is it millions of dollars funded maintenance upfront for the Willard pool?

    How much did it cost taxpayers just in police services this past summer around People Park? Where a six-weeks long operation moved violent folks living on Bowditch over one block to Hillegass, followed by another operation to move 20 or so people sleeping along the parking strip one block over to Regent. Remember cops are the highest paid city employees.
    Like it or not, People’s Park is a public nuisance by legal definition, check the incident data. Yet many would prefer to honor the official bird of Berkeley “the ostrich” and pretend the city is doing all it can under the circumstances.

    Perhaps Berkeley homeowners have the LUXURY of financing this chaos, I think more folks are in my family situation, we cannot financially or ethically support these budgeting policies any longer.

  11. Dan,

    The nature of email is not always a good medium to draw conclusions from.

    As to the “belittling”, it was not ever intended, I was quick to respond in my straight forward style.

    Have you ever gone door to door in South Berkeley, or have you organized the community down here for quality of life improvements? Again this is merely a question not a “belittling” comment.

    I find it very interesting that Robert Collier can describe citizens who question the wisdom of affirming Berkeley methods of taxation as ” anti-tax conservatives” and that is not viewed as “belittling”.

    Sorry if egos got bruised.

  12. Thank you above posters for the reminder that belittling comments are not tools of persuasion. I apologize for saying that anyone with ten fingers will realize that a $22 M bond issue cannot possibly generate a $900K a year revenue stream. I meant that this is an impossible proposition, not that anyone who disagrees with me is stupid. Poorly said on my part. What I meant was that $18 million set aside for operation costs will generate $900K/yr at a 5% ROR. That leaves $4 million for the entire remainder of capital costs for 3 existing pools and one new facility. Just won’t fly.

    Bond measures are tricky beasts. If it was a simple proposition that, hey, I don’t mind paying $58 a year so that thousands of families can enjoy great recreation facilities, then it’s a no brainer. But there are complexities present and they determine the success or failure of bond measures.

    First, when you vote for a bond measure, you are not just taxing yourself. You are taxing other families that you don’t know anything about, or you are not a property owner and you think you are taxing just the rich people in town. I know several families who are on the tipping point of losing their homes and unemployment insurance, and they’re dumpster diving. There are also elderly homeowners on fixed and very small incomes who have cut their budgets to the bone, and they’d like to be able to stay in their homes until they die. So, consider the fact that this seemingly small sum added to the property tax bills of those teetering on financial disaster will shove some of them into economic ruin and the loss of their homes. I don’t know how you balance the disaster this bond will cause to a few families against the benefits it might generate for thousands of families, but it’s something to think about.

    Second, bond measure frequently fail to achieve their stated goals. In fact, many bond measures do not reach their goals because the ballot wording is vague enough to avoid accountability (witness Measure AA and its promise of more classrooms at Berkeley High, which never happened but we continue to pay for) and because there are few or no financial management tools in place to prevent frittering away of the bond monies. That means there will be cost over runs, change orders and construction delays that will probably double the price tag of the final project, and there will be no money available to keep the pools open. Something tells me there will be a second bond measure in a few years when this one has run dry.

    Given the red flag of the promise of $900K in revenue from this $22M bond measure, I doubt very much that this bond can actually deliver on its promises to the community. Coupled with the city’s looming deficits, which means they will not have the money to cover pool operating costs, and the unfortunate timing (we’re at the trough of the interest rate cycle), this pool bond measure looks like another fiasco in the making.

    Instead of dealing with bond measures willy nilly, how about having our city institute a long-range plan that encompasses all the capital requirements over the next 30 years (sewer main repair sure seems like something they better handle soon and boy will that be expensive) and then rank them in importance? But that would not play to a specific voter constituency, so it probably will never happen. Too bad for everyone.

  13. Laura, this is in response to your message that you could not see why I took your comment personally. Let me say, I debated with myself whether to just let things lie, or to respond and decided that it was worth the risk of prolonging/escalating this for me to try and let you see why I think that their was an approach in responding that I could have better heard.

    The main reason I decided it is worth taking the risk is because you make some good arguments and I think people would better hear them if you really could offer them more constructively. I admire your passion and intellect and feel some of us could learn more from you with a modification n your approach. So, with that as a goal, here are some quotes from your response and how they made me feel:

    “Clearly you have never gone door to door…” made me feel you felt I was ignorant and my opinion less valid. Maybe you see it that way, but I would be more easily won over with “I can see why you would want to see the pools kept open, but as I have gone door to door campaigning… this is what I have seen…”

    “the rationalization you just stated” felt like a personal putdown. It felt alienating.

    “but pretending… is pure fiction” made me feel like I was being put down as someone who just creates a false reality. I doubt anyone wants to be told that. I sure didn’t.

    “And the hypocrisy of Berkeley where the concept of supporting economic diversity is in name only.” may have been aimed at the broad community, but in light of the tone of the comment, I couldn’t help feeling like I was being called hypocrit and being called out for not truly wanting economic diversity.

    Laura, I truly am telling you these things in a spirit of helpfulness. I get that there may have been an element of my comment just ticking you off and you just fired off a response. But imagine the good you could do for the causes you believe in if someone like me could actually hear your meaning and thoughts better, instead of being turned off by what I perceived as a critical tone.

    My general rule for responding to others’ comments is to assume good will on their part, validate that you hear and understand their response (or honestly ask for a clarification if you don’t), and then respectfully say your ideas in an “I-statement” kind of way, trying to consider whether they will hear your message and understand it is not intended to belittle.

    That is what I hope I have done with this comment. I very much want to improve communication and hope I have done so in a way that is not offensive.

    I do have a question for you regarding the pools. Is it your belief that the pools are just not a high enough priority to fund in a bond measure and we should spend the money on more worthy uses therby letting pool availability be reduced, or that even if we defeat the bond measure, the city will find a way to keep the pools available?

    My position was predicated on the belief that a defeat of the bond equals only having 2 pools instead of 4, and over time, perhaps losing those. I would hate to see that happen.

  14. regarding the Berkeley H.S. pool . . . back in the Midwest, high school pools are considered to belong to the public and virtually all of them have open swim time for the public . . unless the school pool is located in a community with exceptional parks and public pools.

    It is an outrage that the Berkeley H.S. pool sits unused much of the time. I don’t think I would use it, now that I know how wonderful it is to swim outdoors but I lived right downtown and when I walk past that underused, beautiful facility that was paid for, let’s remember, with taxes, I am angered.

    That pool does not belong to the school board or the principal. It belongs to Berkeley. Berkeley taxes paid for it. It should be made available to the community when the high school is not using it. Fees to use the pool should pay for the lifeguards and added insurance to open it to the public.

    And how about this: if the city is going to pay for fix the public* pools, why not transfer title of the property to the city? Can you explain why the school district owns it?

    *let me reiterate. . . the h.s. pool is a public pool that is not made available to the public.

  15. I am a lifelong lap swimmer and a fairly new Berkeley resident. I moved to Berkeley one year ago this week. I was living in Mountain View, where I had landed after relocating to CA from living most of my life in the Midwest. I only lived in MV two years because I quickly realized I wanted to be close to BART.

    In MV, which is a lot smaller than Berkeley, there are two public pools, and one of them is only open in the summer. MV has a population of about 65,000 to Berkeley’s approximately 100,000 . . if these numbers are off, please don’t jump on them because they represent a fair proportional comparison.

    MV was my first California public pool experience. The public pools in MV are fantastic, esp. the newest one, which is about twenty years old. People come there from all over the mid-peninsula area. The city of Los Altos doesn’t have a pool so it contracts with MV so its residents can use it. Los Altos and MV also share some public school responsibilities. But people drive from Cupertino and even Milpitas and eastern San Jose to swim in MV just because both the pool and the locker rooms are nice.

    Wow. Swimming in a nice pool is an indescribably better experience than swimming in a crappy one, such as the ones we have in Berkeley. I am shocked by the really crappy pools here, the very high prices, the sucky scheduling, the constant changes with the scheduling, the disrespect for ordinary lap swimmers, the preference for Masters swimmers (why do they matter more than the non-masters lap swimmers? I don’t undertand?). . and the locker rooms are like dungeons.

    In a pleasant environment, I exercise more. In MV, I ended up swimming every single day the pools were open and worked up to two hours most days. I could not swim two hours in Berkeley because there are rarely two hours of lap swim open. I hate swimming in the Berkeley pools because the pools suck and the locker rooms are depressing . . and it costs so much!!

    The grounds and pools in MV have the quality of a private country club. . . the pools here remind me of bleak inner city pools of my childhood Chicago South Side.

    I was shocked to read in this blog that the Berk pools were built in the sixties. . . I thought they had to date from the WPA because they are so run down.

    The swimming pool situation shocked and surprised me when I moved to Berk. So I tried the Y. I hate the Y after the joy of swiming outdoors, plus the Berk Y is also kinda dated and dark and its locker rooms kinda suck(no natural light in the place). So I tried to suck it up and swim in the public pools. Many times I would arrive . . on the bus, I don’t own a car .. and find out the pool was closed. If you try to call the city to find out the schedule, no one — ever — answers the phone and they don’t put up-to-date info on the phones.

    The whole public sector here is schlerotic at best and dysfunctional routinely. I don’t think Berkeleyites get nearly enough bang for their taxes, not when I compare it to the awesomely high level of amenities and customer service found in MV. I know MV is an upscale suburb in Silicon Valley but I think the money that actually gets spent on public amenties is quite comparable. There is a mindset here in BErkeley that very low standards are acceptable.

    The warm pool . . .I don’t quite understand that issue. I am a liberal and care about justice. If you tell me disabled, old and young people need a warm pool, I want them to have one. Warm pools are new to me. I am 56 and never had access to one. The only ones I knew about back in the Midwest were very few and far between and typically found in places that serve the disabled, like rehab centers. I hate swimming in a warm pool and I think it is a fallacy, with no data to support otherwise, that swimming in warm pools are better. Where I come from, the disabled swim in the same pools as everyone else. . . and do the same things. A lap pool can have stairs for the disabled . . up in Seattle, wehre I lived for five years, there are few, if any, warm pools but all the public pools have stairs and lifts for the disabled, who use the same pools as everyone else. Still, I am happy to spend a few dollars a year to support a warm pool.

    I don’t like reading the school district owns the property the pools are in but the city pays for the pools. I don’t like this proposition funding approach. I think four public pools sound relatively reasonable for a city this size, although I know MV survives with half as many (two pools instead of four) with only about one third less citizenry. I question the need for four pools. I question the need for a warm pool. . . there are lots of things I would like the city to fund but I make do with what is offered. Just because Berkeley is the founding location for the disability movement does not mean the taxpayers of Berkeley have a higher duty to provide warm pools than the rest of the world. Just like kids who wants toys their parents can’t pay for, or maybe music lessons the parents can’d fund, maybe the disabled in Berkeley can’t have a warm pool.

    And I am glad I read Maureen’s information informing us that Berkeley does not transparently audit what they do with their proposition money. Am I understanding this correctly? I get, from Maureen’s info, that a proposition already provided money to solve the warm pool problem but then the money was not used to . . .solve the warm pool problem? But now we are asked to give more prop money, with no accountabillity? And also, we are asked to believe in the magical accounting and believe the proceeds of this proposition will both build these pools — when do costs ever fail to grossly exceed projections — the renovations will cost more, they always do — and then, wave a magic wand, and there will be 900,000 annually for the pools? I don’t buy it. I have seen nothing coming from the city of Berk to show they give one good goddamned about the swimming pools or swimmers.

    Let’s face it. If the city of Berkeley cared about it’s public health — there are lots of good public policy reasons for a city to provide exercise facilities for itself — it would have invested in the awful public pools long ago. I think this city is very badly run and, like most voting constituencies in this country in recent years, people get what they deserve. You folks re-elected Tom Bates when you had plenty of reason to know that he did not care about things like ordinary people swimming . . . he cares about ego-driven big-dreaming deals that boost his ego and sucking up to developers who flatter him at cocktail parties . you folks re-elected him when you had a great alternative — Zelda Bernstein (I marched to supported her in the Solano Stroll when you folks re=elected Bate). Zelda used to be on the city planning board and she cared about regular people. Berkeley created the mess they are in. .. they reelected Bates.

    Yes, I know we now have to work aroung the current realities. We have a mayor who is pro rich developers and with no interest in the nuts and bolts of ordinary details of running a community. He seems to think big new buildilngs means he is a success. Where I come from, Chicago, mayors tend to be measured by how well they maintain parks, streets, garbage collection .. quality of life issues for the people who are already here. Well, this is not the place to blast Bates’ approach to city planning. . .

    but this pool issue is vitally integrated with the quality of life of this city. Your city planning staff — and elected leaders — waive development fees for rich deveopers all the time, even though your city is underfunded. The development that Bates has shoved into this city should pay for new pools.

    In Santa Fe, NM, anyone ANYONE who wants to build any kind of housing in Santa Fe has to pay the city of Santa Fe for the cost of instaling low flow toilets in existing homes as a way to make the newcomers/investors pay for what it costs to fix the things that need to be fixed in the city. It’s an odd little deal and I don’t have many details as i write this . . . but I mention it to illustrate that the city of Berkeley could tie the pool problem to development fees . . there are lots of ways to fund the city’s public amenities beyond propositions.

    I don’t like the propositions.

    I am sorry, but I am unpersuaded that Berkeley can afford the warm pool. Yes, we are one community. Yes, the disabled deserve to swim. But in most of the coutry, the disabed swim in the same pool as lap swimmers and they do just fine.

    Having said all these things, I will likely vote for the proposition. I love swimming pools. Heck, I think everyone should be a swimmer and if more folks start swimming, there are not enough pools in this town. ..

    unless you include the private pools and the many fantastic pools at the University, which is where I swim. I might not have stayed in Berkeley but for the UC pools. I was shocked when I moved here last year and discovered how bad the pools are. I think the current condition of Berk pools shows that this community has a disdain for the ordinary nuts and bolts of public works. . . this city likes to get all het up about hip and cool and trendy debates. . . it fits my image of Berkeley to know that Berk is the home of the disabililty movement (I already knew that, I am, btw, disabled) but it has never invested in its public fitness facilities. The public sports facilities in Berkeley aen’t all that great either.

    And it is unconsionable that the city does not own the pools. How whacked is that?

    Are you sure West and King pools were built in the sixties? I could swear they are WPA projects: they look exactly like WPA pools back in the Midwest.

    Looks to me like Berkeley hipsters don’t swim much because if Berkeley hipsters were swimmers, this town would have great public pools. Or maybe all the cool middle aged folks who should have ponied up for good public park facilities — better tennis courts, public gyms, running tracks — all of these amenities suck in Berkeley . . . and now I wonder if the city owns any of its parks?!. . .maybe the middle aged hipsters all work at the U and use the fantastic facilities over there?

    I don’t like the way you, Dan, ask people to support this proposition after you acknowledge it is not the best possible approach. I am sick and tired of being forced to accept watered down mediocrity. Maybe we ought to just live with the two closed pools . . live with the consequences of past inertia and neglect and maybe that will generate energy to fix the pools.

    And in the meantime. . . swim at the U.

  16. Again, I see irony…..

    This is a link to a citizen of Oakland who recently sued Oakland for mismanagement of tax payers funds. She won, she is attorney who specializes in defending school districts and education law. In fact she is one of BUSD attorneys, Supt Lawrence hired this firm.

    http://defendingmeasurey.blogspot.com/

    I have great respect for Ms. Sachs and her effort to ensure quality of life in Oakland, and her righteous belief that government must be transparent and protect tax payers investments.

    During the 10 years I attended Berkeley 2×2 city/schools meetings arguing for compliance with truancy and school safety laws, I heard the Warm Pool advocates constant and polite pleas for action. They had won the funding and now were hostage to tyrants (public officials) who have no incentive to protect the tax payers investments. Supt Lawrence dragged her feet, the relationships between the city and school district was competitive and uncooperative. There was a lot of political maneuvering and trade offs around land use decisions, 6th St, Hillside, etc. Wasting the tax payers money did not matter to these folks one bit. They are so used to going to taxpayers for more…….

    On the “tone” thing, I get it, Berkeley is not as down to earth or as tolerant of dissenting views as other communities. I have always joked, that south Berkeley has more in common with west Oakland than the rest of Berkeley.

  17. Dan,

    Not sure why you took my assessment personally. And yes elect council members who are responsible to the whole community needs. Again facts tell a different tale and Berkeley district elections results in several districts stuck in an ideological cycle electing the same people over and over.

    In 2004 I ran against Max Anderson in District 3 for three primary reasons:

    1. Budgeting based on a service based outcome system
    2. Public safety ( before my campaign, public safety was considered a Repbulcian value only, check out Worthington commnets to the Bay Guardian)
    3. District 3 receive its fair share of city services for quality of life purposes

    Been there, done that!

    I will never forget how many white folks called or wrote me to say ” Laura, I admire and am grateful for all your efforts on school and community improvements but I could never vote for a white person in district 3″
    These people are affectionately known by my friends as “stupid white people”. While that might seem harsh or mean to you, to us it is a meaningful expression about a shared sense of irony, another term we use, is our “Berkeley Betters” referring to those who dictate the rules yet ignore the harsh realities we live with. Remember I live in the hood, the gun beat, my school activism grew from my job as a mom, when my boys were subjected to horrific failures by the responsible adults. Because of my experiences I long ago decided the blunt truth is preferable to pretty buzz words, and I am not given to pretend.

  18. Robert,

    “We’re one community, not two.”

    Wow, this is an interesting comment, considering that Berkeley is a known as community governed by the politics of divisions. The one new trick Supt Lawrence taught the school board during her 7 year tenure was to develop a unified approach and at least appear to make decisions based on governance and away from political reactive gamesmanship. I will never forgot when Terry Doran, as the board activist for the small school movement publicly apologized for his part in generating the political divisiveness that tears apart the fabric of civil society. He acknowledge that they had won concessions and accomplished their goals, but he lamented his behavior in the process as being too hostile at times.

    I agree we should be united, by the facts tell a different story; Berkeley is more of an archipelago where different islands (neighborhoods, council districts, interests) compete. (read Lyford’s The Berkeley Archipelago)

    The original rationale for convening the Berkeley Alliance was to consider ways of combining resources from UCB, City of Berkeley, and Berkeley Unified that might improve efficiencies, services and outcomes. There were discussions about parking, transportation, and employee health insurance costs. The political process by which UIA took control of the Alliance agenda to push the 2020 plan illustrates the power and ultimate authority of Berkeley’s special brand of insider politics.

    Years ago when the Old Gym renovation debate was in full throttle I suggested to several school board members the option of West campus for the warm pool. I also suggested during the BUSD West Campus redevelopment plan that a true alternative program for “troubled youth” be included there. I reminded the district about the available funding through CDE community day program. Darryl Moore stood in the way of the alternative program. Rather than provide leadership that actually brings solutions he aligned with his district 2 constituents. When I asked him why not educate the uninformed and reactionary neighbors about the benefits of a community day program he yelled at me, “Not in my district Laura, you can bring those kids to district 3″. I said great, tell your pal Max, we welcome sound programs that actually provide alternatives, after all district 3 already hosts the lions share of city social services, what’s one more.

    FYI, I am a caregiver to a disabled brother, and I know well the difficulties disabled face. Berkeley is not the panacea they would like you believe. There are a handful of competent agencies while others remain fully funded despite evidence collected during city staff evaluations.

  19. I also want to keep the quality of life in Berkeley as high as possible. Who doesn’t? But fiscal mismanagement will ultimately degrade life in this town for everyone. You can’t ignore the long-term consequences of poorly drafted, poorly implemented bond measures that have no real oversight. These consequences cast a long, dark shadow on everyone’s future. Current projections show a $9.6 million deficit for the City of Berkeley in 2012. So where will the money come from to pay for maintenance of proposed new pool facilities when it’s obvious to anyone with ten fingers that the bond measure can’t possibly generate $900K yearly for operational costs?

    If you want to make sure the city has enough money to pay for things like public health and other critical needs, then you have to care about financial accountability and competency on its part. Money wasted means fewer services available to people who need it. Take a look at what’s happening to state services and realize that’s the future for Berkeley if the city doesn’t clean up its financial house.

    When Berkeley audits bond measure monies and shows any modest level of accountability for their disbursements the way other municipalities and school districts do, then it’s time to support them. So come on city and school district, give us regular updates on bond fund payouts the way other California municipal entities do, with bond project status update brochures in property tax bills. And prioritize your allocation process so that basic services are funded before other options. Until then, forget about it.

  20. Ouch, Laura! I hear that you are passionate about economic justice. I’ll just share that perhaps I might receive your argument better with a dosage of gentleness. Belittling one another is just alienating.

    You say that we shouldn’t be “pretending this bond is the best approach”. If you read what I said in the first paragraph of my comment, then you know I don’t dispute that.

    What I said is that, in spite of that, I would support the measure. To not support it would likely mean the closing of Willard and no warm pool. Those are quality of life issues for many lower income, elderly and disabled citizens, as well as others (I, by the way, have actually never taken advantage of the pools, so it was not for me personally that I support the measure).

    I think it is great to fight for a government system that works (the best way would be by electing officials who support a better system), but in the meantime, I would like to see these pools exist for all of our quality of life.

    If you still think I don’t get it, I welcome your ideas, but gently please.

  21. Dan,

    Clearly you have never gone door to door campaigning in south Berkeley, where elderly, black, disabled, lower income homeowners cannot afford the luxury of slopping, wasteful government or the rationalization you just stated.

    Quality of life? we would be happy to see the city finally address quality of life needs in our low income, economically diverse section of Berkeley, but pretending this bond is the best approach to maintaining warm pool access is pure fiction. Did you listen to the council and pool advocates public discussions about the staff plan and the voters survey? There are serious internal divisions about this plan, not to mention the survey suggests voters will only support repairs to the warm pool.

    The whole mess is yet another example of why citizens should be demanding competency in city business management rather than reward abuses.
    And the hypocrisy of Berkeley where the concept of supporting economic diversity is in name only.

  22. I plan to vote for the measure, not because it’s right or fair, the best plan, or a well-constructed bond measure.

    For me, and I hope for most people in Berkeley, it is simple. I love living in Berkeley and want to keep the quality of life for all citizens, able-bodied and not, as high as it can be. $58 a year is alot, but it’s worth paying to keep and perhaps even enhance our quality of life.

  23. The existing warm pool at the Y is not a wading pool for toddlers. I’ve swum there and so do many others. It’s a perfectly good alternative.

    A $21M bond can not provide a yearly revenue stream of $900K while paying for capital improvements for 3 facilities as well as building a new warm pool. You’d have to place the entire bond amount of $21M in reserve to generate that amount of yearly cash flow. Then you’d have no money left for the actual capital improvements.

    Berkeley voters have been bruised and battered by past local bond measures. I’m still waiting for Nancy Riddle to explain why she never demanded yearly audits of Measure AA now that the money’s all gone and the promised classrooms for Berkeley High were never built.

  24. In response to previous reader comments: The warm pool at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA is not a suitable alternative for the Warm Pool that is being demolished at BHS. It’s only three and a half feet deep and 30 feet by 30 feet wide, so it is essentially only a wading pool for toddlers. And it’s jam packed. YMCA staff say they do not have capacity for additional users.

    The Pools Task Force convened by the City and BUSD in 2008-09, on which I was one of 10 members, looked at many alternative facilities and locations for the Warm Pool. The West Campus site turned out to be the best one, and BUSD is providing it for free. As I mentioned in the article, Berkeley has a deep commitment to providing services to the elderly and handicapped. It’s a philosophical commitment that I strongly share. It’s not cheap, but it’s who we are as a community.

    As for splitting the Warm Pool and outdoor pools bonds, that’s impractical because the new Warm Pool and existing outdoor pool at West Campus will need to share the same pumps, heaters and other infrastructure. Splitting them also is antithetical to our values. The elderly and disabled have the same rights as able-bodied people and we should not be divided, one group against another. We’re one community, not two.

  25. There are a lot of problems with this bond measure. For one thing, even though certain bond measures can legally provide a source of operating funds, it’s a horrible idea for the long-term health of the city. Schwarzenegger has floated bond measures to cover state operating costs and it will kill California eventually while providing short-term fiscal relief. Now Berkeley is following his lead and our city already has a huge budget hole. Bond measures are tools to pay for capital expenditures, not operating costs. Operating costs should be paid for out of current revenue. And it is very strange that the city would float a bond measure to be applied to property they don’t even own.

    Strategically, it’s a really bad idea to float this city bond measure for June when there will be a BUSD bond measure in the fall, one that will be much larger and even more difficult to support, since we already approved Measure AA in 2000 that was supposed to build those much needed classrooms at BHS but whose funds were squandered and are now gone. No way should people be asked to pay twice for the same thing, or pay for operating costs out of a bond measure.

  26. Agree Maureen, and to the pool advocates where is the assessment of all the various pool facilities including the Y, UCB, and private pools used by Berkeley residents? We cannot afford to under utilize existing facilities.
    Why doesn’t the Berkeley school board even consider adult lap swim hours at the brand new high school pool? It is basically empty all summer. If BUSD offered a competitive monthly rate I would be walking from my south Berkeley home instead of driving to Oakland Temescal pool, which is superior and less expensive than Berkeley pools.

  27. Well, I was planning on voting for the pool measure until I read this. I am not an anti-tax conservative. I have voted for every local bond measure since moving to Berkeley in 1977 and now my tax bill is higher than my mortgage. But my concerns over funding of a second warm water pool in Berkeley are valid and your dismissal of them rankles.

    How many locals use the warm pool at BHS currently? How many could use the Y warm pool? Has this question ever been answered?

    Back in 2000 Measure AA called for the demolition of the old gym, which houses the warm pool, to build much-needed classrooms. Since when should a very small group of people stop the school district from using their own property to provide basic services to their students, i.e., enough classrooms to teach in? Do you know how every year most Berkeley High teachers have to move from classroom to classroom every period? Do you know how this affects teaching, since kids can’t even find their teachers? Do you even care?

    The City should have separated any warm pool proposal from a bond measure to upgrade King and Willard pools. Yet another sneaky bit of maneuvering on the part of our local politicians. I urge everyone to vote against this bond measure.