Willard Pool, circa 2009. Photo: protographer23

A couple of months ago, Robert Collier, co-chair of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, explained why he thought a yes vote on the June ballot measure was important for Berkeley. Marie Bowman supports swimming in Berkeley, but is against the ballot measure. She explains why:

Willard Pool, circa 2009. Photo: protographer23

Berkeley’s pool bond will be on the June 8th ballot. It proposes to replace the indoor warm pool at Berkeley High School (without identifying a new location), renovate the West Campus and Willard pools, and construct a multi-purpose (competition) pool at King, at a construction cost of $22,500,000 plus annual maintenance of $3,500,000 indexed to the highest rate of inflation.

We Berkeleyans like to swim, and we generously support our city, schools and community recreational facilities. We approved $20 million dollars in new taxes last November. We currently subsidize every warm pool swim by $20 and each regular swim by $10. So let’s make reasonable choices that benefit everyone, including swimmers.

It’s the new pool construction — by far the largest share of this bond — that doesn’t make sense. The greenest facilities are the ones already built; demolition and construction burn fossil fuels, choke landfills and waste resources. Rehabilitating existing pools would require only one-third the cost of building new.

The BHS warm pool, as part of a nationally landmarked district, should be reused and not demolished. If rehab is off the table, let’s give those swimmers passes to either the YMCA’s two warm pools or UC’s community program for the disabled, which operates a warm pool. Just like BUSD uses the YMCA warm pool for its own disabled students.

Memberships to these existing warm pool programs in Berkeley would be less than 1% of the bond’s maintenance cost, let alone the enormous construction cost.

The YMCA and UC pools meet the needs of nearly all warm water pool swimmers: children, adults, pregnant, obese, arthritic, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, in accordance with the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA), the world’s largest certifying organization for aquatic fitness programming. The AEA does not recommend the use of pools above 86 degrees except for limited functions, as there is a risk of overheating, stroke or heart attack.

So who should be using a pool at 92 degrees, like the bond would replace? Very few people. And those few can swim in the YMCA pools as they have in the past, when the BHS warm pool (more accurately, hot pool) has undergone repairs or during school closures.

If Berkeley needs an additional warm water pool, should it be at the proposed 2,250 square feet, an Olympic sized pool, kept at an energy-consumptive 92 degrees? If you answer yes to that question, why not make it a regional pool, sharing the costs as we did in the development of the Gilman sports fields? Palo Alto did just that. In 2007, Palo Alto’s warm pool received $5,274,346 from public and private partners. City taxpayers only paid $40,356.

As for the need to build a new competitive pool, one already exists at Berkeley High School, and Willard formerly served as one for middle school swimmers. In the ’50s, our civic leaders envisioned city and school recreational facilities would be shared. In the ’70s Berkeleyans approved Measure Y, a ballot measure which reaffirmed our rights to use school recreational facilities for recreation, outside school activity times. Nationally, all other school districts let the public use their pools during non-school usage. Public funding equals public use.

Why can’t the middle school competitive swimmers use the BHS pool? It’s the very pool they will use in high school, and getting used to it now will give them a competitive edge then. Additionally, the Willard pool was designed as a competitive pool. Rehabbing Willard to once again be a competitive pool would reduce the overall cost by approximately $2,500,000.

Our financials are already stretched too thin. Berkeley’s unemployment is at a 10-year high of 11.3%. Berkeley municipal debt is skyrocketing — $4 million this year, $15 million next year. Council proposes to raise fees to bridge the gap. The BUSD will be asking us to support a capital bond measure of $208,000,000 and a maintenance bond of about $45,000,000 this November. Federal, state and county governments will also be issuing new fees and taxes.

The City and BUSD need to rethink their priorities. Maintenance for this bond has grown by 380%.

Our parks, recreation and waterfront programs are being reduced by 25% over the next two years due to staff increases, PERS obligations and loss of state funding, yet the maintenance fee on this bond represents a 38% recreational tax hike for just pools. Our parks and recreation programs benefit everyone. Is it fair that they get a huge cut and that the pools get the lion’s share of our recreational tax dollars? The city still hasn’t acted responsibly to prioritize our essential services first — services that are critically viable to our community’s very existence. This measure needs to be re-written to better serve Berkeley’s needs.

Let’s keep Berkeley swimming with better, greener, sustainable alternatives. A legacy we can be proud of. Vote No. 

Guest contributor

Freelance writers with story pitches can email editors@berkeleyside.com.

Join the Conversation


  1. If Berkeley High facilities were available on a limited basis to the general public(like everywhere else) then I would be certain that many people would appreciate them enough to maintain them.
    The school is locked up like a jail, and the public times for the track are not regular and seem to depend on which janitor decides to open them up.
    Schools are public facilities and usually are considered civic centers for many things(arts,sports.)
    Its a large facility in an urban area which should be accessible to the taxpayers who cough up for these things. Then maybe we would care more. Not everyone has teenage kids, yet or ever. If the system would share these facilities, then other taxpayers could see the benefit of paying more.

  2. “Or, better yet, force the high school to keep the warm pool. That pool belongs to the entire city of Berkeley, not just the school district.”

    WRONG! BHS belongs to the school district, not to the entire community, and it is the obligation of the school board to see that all school facilities are used to the benefit of our students. The woefully inadequate athletic facilities at Berkeley High border on being criminal, and I have seen as many as five teams practice simultaneously on the football field. The fact that the tennis courts have been taken away, and that there is no baseball field, is a civic embarrassment when visiting teams play Berkeley. I enjoy swimming, so I joined the YMCA, and I fail to understand why a minute group of people somehow feel that the 3,400 students of Berkeley High are obligated to provide for their recreation.

  3. I swim laps almost every single day. I was shocked when I moved to Berkeley just over a year ago and learned about the sad condition of Berkeley’s public pools. I don’t think Berkeley residents would accept a city free of baseball fields or tennis courts or playgrounds and it is bizarre that Berkeley would not already have a couple fantastic public swimming pools. The pool situation in Berkeley is a weird disgrace.

    I support good public pools. As mentioned in the guest commentary, in most parts of the country, public school swimming pools are used by the general public when the school swim team is not using them. Gosh, when I grew up in the Midwest in the late fifties and the sixties and into the seventies, public high school pools were free in the evenings.

    Most pools in the Upper Midwest are indoors. Outdoor pools are only open in the short summer months when school is out. I lived in Chicago growing up, attended college in Wisconsin, lived in MN for twenty years, Omaha for five years, and Michigan for a couple . . plus I spent most childhood summers in Indiana. And I swam laps in all these states. Having warm pools for the disabled was virtually unheard of. I know that Berkeley birthed the disability rights movement. I know it is very hip to have warm pools for the disabled and I don’t begrudge accomodations for disabilities. I am disabled myself. But warm pools are not absolutely essential for a disabled swim program. Disabled people can swim in the same water I swim in at UC Speiker Pool. I know what I am saying sounds cold, harsh towards the disabled but disabled people can work out in water that is eighty degrees. It really is just custom, cultural habit, that caused this west coast habit of giving very warm, expensive-to-heat pools to the disabled. If money were not a consideration, yes, sure, build a state-of-the-art spectacular new facility.

    Or, better yet, force the high school to keep the warm pool. That pool belongs to the entire city of Berkeley, not just the school district.

    I am disturbed that the ballot measure allocates an amount of money that is no more valid than pulling a number out of a hat. .. without knowing where the warm pool would be built, any funding amount for the warm pool is guessing games.

    I love the suggestion of giving memberships to any Berkeley resident who ‘needs’ a warm pool to them. It costs $300/year for a disabled membership at UC RecSports . . . and this is an amazing deal. Or give membership to people who show they are disabled and have economic need to the Y, at the guest commentator suggests. This is much more sustainable than spending many millions.

    I love the idea of getting together with other municipalities.

    I lived in Mountain View before I moved to Berkeley. There are two public pools in MV, a city of 70,000. There is no warm pool. Maybe people went to Palo Alto for a warm pool .. . but the pool I swam at, Eagle Park Pool, had many swimmers in their eighties and nineties. Many physically disabled swimmers got lifted in and out of those open, non-warm pools and participated in all classes and many did laps. This persuades me that a warm pool is not absolutely essential. I am sure disabled folks read my comments and think I am being heartless but I speak as a loving parent who would like to give all her kids what they want but sometimes the budget just doesn’t allow me to give everyone everything they want.

    I am much more interested in seeing Berkeley provide a competitive pool for the city’s young athletes, a fine large pool facility to teach children how to swim and lap time.

    I think Berkeley should build one large, fantastic aquatics center that meets all needs for swim teams, swim lessons (young and old) lap swimmers, masters (atho I resent the way masters’ teams always buy the best lap hours and don’t really pay a fair share for that access: as a non-masters lap swimmer, I am biased, yes. . . make the masters swim through the nose or else let them do masters at UC . . . our public pools should prioritize the public, not a private swim club). . . not just two pools, perhaps arrange in an l, with twenty five meters one way and fifty meters the other. . . but a wading pool for little ones, a few water slides for fun, like a water playground. . . nice showeres and what the heck, a hot tub. . . .

    It is unbelievable to me that Berkeley CA has the inadequate pool facilities it has . .. but I don’t think the ballot measure is right.

    I support the suggestions of this guest commentator, as a stopgap measure. Instead of slappingi together something, anything, this year, let’s step back and get the pool thing right. The proposal on the ballot is wrong.