Public Comment

JUNE BALLOT MEASURE ON POOLS (Adapted from Spring NEBA Newsletter Article)

By Barbara Gilbert
Wednesday May 26, 2010 - 10:38:00 AM

After months of discussion, two voter surveys, and intense lobbying by pool advocates, the City Council voted to place a $22,500,000 (plus built-in inflator) Community Facilities bond on the June 8, 2010 ballot.This measure requires a 2/3 majority to pass.It would:provide for a replacement indoor warm pool of about 2250sf and associated facilities constructed at West Campus, to replace the warm pool at the BHS gym scheduled for demolition by BUSD;construct a new all-purpose 25 meter pool and associated facilities at King;and renovate the existing pool and associated facilities at Willard.Over the life of the bond, the average annual tax cost for a 1900 sf residence is estimated at $70, and at $297 for a 10,000 sf commercial space.Since the measure includes an unusual levy for ongoing maintenance (ordinarily paid out of the General Fund), after the bond is repaid in 2040 there would remain an annual maintenance tax of $24 for the average homeowner.And as the measure is based on property square footage, these forgoing taxes would be proportionately higher for larger properties. 

The NEBA (Northeast Berkeley Association) board met with proponents and opponents, and discussed this measure extensively at its March and April meetings.At this time, the NEBA Board is neither officially opposing or supporting this bond measure. The NEBA board, in general, strongly supports adequate community swim facilities, but nevertheless has reservations about this particular bond measure.NEBA would prefer a smaller, more focused and realistic budget and plan to renovate and maintain those pool facilities that will be widely used by the community, including the King and Willard pools.The threat to close down the Willard pool if the bond measure fails is unconvincing and a form of unacceptable strong-arming. 

In particular, the NEBA board has reservations about the proposed construction of a “warm pool’ at a construction cost of almost $10,000,000 plus ongoing maintenance costs.“Warm pool” is a misnomer, since the proposed 92 degree farenheit temperature is appropriately called a “therapeutic pool” and is, in the vernacular, a “hot pool”.The Aquatic Exercise Associationguidelines for pool temperature indicate that a temperature of 90 degrees and above is only suitable for certain limited types of therapy and rehabilitation, and for Parkinson’s Disease.A lower temperature is recommended for most other potential users of a warmer-than-normal pool, such as pregnant women, older adults, the obese, the arthritic, and those with multiple sclerosis.It appears that there are only about 100 Berkeley users of the existing therapeutic pool at Berkeley High School.A new therapeutic hot pool would thus serve very few Berkeleyans and at most a few hundred regional users--without regional financial contribution.Current user fees are subsidized by about $20 per swim and there has been no effort to explore higher user fees for those who can afford it or who can get health insurance reimbursement, or for non-Berkeleyans.In any event, a direct subsidy to all current users for use elsewhere would be minuscule compared to the bond cost.The YMCA has two therapeutic pools and there are other possible resources at UCB. 

The NEBA board also feels that the size and timing of this bond measure is inappropriate given the City’s overall unfunded longterm liabilities in the hundred of millions of dollars (yet to be fully accounted for as promised), its $16+ million annual operating deficit, the shockingly poor state of the local and national economy, and BUSD plans to float a new $200M+ facilities bond in November 2010.The NEBA board was unhappy with the BUSD decision to tear down the existing therapeutic pool at BHS and hopes BUSD will reconsider so that this pool may be renovated.The board also frowned upon the unorthodox use of bond money for staff and maintenance functions ordinarily paid by the City’s General Fund, and the floating of yet another revenue measure that is purported to benefit the entire community but is only to be paid for by property owners. 

In summary, in the foreseeable future NEBA would like to see a better and smaller plan for our community pools that does not include a $10,000,000+ therapy pool for the benefit of a few hundred persons at most. The NEBA Board understands that some voters will support this particular pool bond measure in the belief that it is right for Berkeley or that the good parts outweigh the rest.The NEBA board urges voters to proceed with caution and care. 

For your information, below is a summary of the official ballot arguments for and against the measure: 

For: municipal pools are a treasure but all four are near the end of their useful lives; there’s no time to lose;all pools will become more energy efficient;operating funds will be guaranteed; supporting this measure will result in a legacy for Berkeley. 

Against: Berkeley already has 15 pools, 9 public, 3 nonprofit, and 3 private; warm pool users can be provided with passes to the YMCA and Cal Stars pools; new regional facilities should be regionally funded; BUSD should not be demolishing the warm pool at BHS and it could be rehabbed for 1/3 the cost; all BUSD pools should be available to the general community as in other jurisdictions; Berkeley finances are already stretched too thin, more taxes and fees are impending, and essential needs have not been established or prioritized. 

Rebuttal to the Argument For: according to the Aquatic Exercise Association, the Cal and YMCA pools should meet the needs of nearly all warm pool swimmers, and membershipcosts would be minuscule compared to this measure;the proposed 91F temperature of the new warm pool is not recommended for tots, children, pregnant women, the arthritic, seniors and the obese;BUSD will be demolishing a certified National Landmark;Berkeley faces skyrocketing debt and hundreds of millions in unfunded liabilities. 

Rebuttal to the Argument Against: Berkeley’s naysayers want to shut down pools; Berkeley has 4 municipal pools, not 9;maintenance costs will actually be lower; Berkeley’s debt is not skyrocketing;no adequate alternatives to the new warm pool exist; youth swim teams need better training conditions.