Blogbeat: Midnight Swimming in Berkeley

By Thomas Lord
Tuesday June 01, 2010 - 02:49:00 PM

News from the web-o-rama blogosphere... Summary of today's items: 

• Berkeley's "Measure C" is in the news and today's column offers some analysis and links to handy information, along with an embarrassing personal story for your amusement. 

• A precious library, the Water Resources Center Archives, is under severe threat from state budget cutbacks. One of the bestest libraries you've probably never heard of... read more, below. 

• Speaking of troubled waters, Berkeley's own Professor Bob Bea has recently been providing quite a bit of insight into the unfolding situation in the Gulf of Mexico. We link to some of his interesting commentary. 

• Berkeley's own Robert Reich has issued a call to action. Help try to end "too big to fail" - see below. 

Measure C: A Not So Easy Choice

There was a certain night, some years ago, in my life. A really lousy night. Life's uncertainties had caught up with me. All hell was breaking loose in my personal affairs. I found myself quite sleepless - quite restless. I set out on a long walk to try to clear my mind and failed to make much progress on the mental aspects of that walk until, quite by accident, I realized that I was in Strawberry Canyon not far from a UC outdoor swimming pool that is a favorite of many. 

At that hour, of course, the pool was locked up and quiet. There was only the tail end of a party winding down in the nearby building. I walked the trails through the woods at the periphery and, to my surprise, found a hole in the fence. The pool was locked but also, unofficially, open. Temptation. 

I'm generally a pretty timid person when it comes to law breaking - heck, I often use hand signals while cautiously biking - but what with the turbulent waters of my life that night I decided to slip in, strip down to the bathing suit God gave me, and do some therapeutic laps. ("Strip down" -- "Eww, gross". Well, for the record, I may have been nekkid but I did have the decency to not pee in the pool because that would have been gross.) 

The evening did me a world of good. I went home to cope with my troubles with a much clearer mind and an invigorated body. There was some embarrassment when I noticed that a couple of the party goers who had strolled outside were watching, with apparent bemusement, as I put my clothes back on but, c'est la vie. 

All of this is to say that I have at least some glimmer of an appreciation of the value of publicly accessible pools. Some supporters of Measure C on the upcoming ballot will tell you that it's a matter of community values and legacy - "We don't want to lose one square foot of our beautiful municipal pools" [Youtube - Video - quoting Linda Maio during a pro-C rally]. I quite agree on the importance of our pools. 

I only wish that I could personally support Measure C. I can't. Let me go through some reasons and, more importantly, toss some source material at you to help you make up your own mind. No reason to trust me - please look into it yourself and be an informed voter on whatever side you pick. 

Right here in this edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet is a piece by Mr. Robert Collier in defense of Measure C. This is a good compass to use to start mapping out some of the arguments for and against, even though I disagree with some of his statements. 

One of his key points concerns the (in his view) "myth" that "Another pools ballot measure can be tried in a year or two from now. There's no hurry". In response he cites the (in his words) "fact" that "The Warm Pool and Willard Pool are slated for permanent closure in the next year if measure C is not approved." 

Indeed they are! In fact, the current warm pool is slated for permanent closure regardless of whether or not measure C is approved. The only questions for the warm pool are when and if a replacement will be ready. There is urgency in the sense that seamless availability of a municipal warm pool is better than a delay - but it is also true that if Measure C fails we can try again later, perhaps with a better measure. (What's wrong with C specifically? I'll get to that.) The heart-string tugging of Measure C proponents stretches the truth here (which is not to make light of the consequences of extending interruptions of service). 

Where Measure C begins to look sketchy to me is illustrated by some of Mr. Collier's other alleged "Facts" vs. "Myths". Where it looks quite sketchy to me is in the ambitions of the plans for what kind of pools to build. Links galore, follow: 

Mr. Collier cites as "myth" that "Funds are likely to be siphoned off to the rest of the city budget and not spent on pools..." and the "fact" that "Measure C funds must be used exclusively for the purposes described in the ballot statement." Now, have you read the ballot statement ? It's really quite remarkable in its indirectness. It is but two paragraphs long. The second, says: 

For additional detail and background information on the pools bond, please use Records Online to access City Council Resolutions 64,797-N.S., 64,798-N.S., and 64,799-N.S.  

To view those resolutions you have to jump several hoops. I'll save you a step. Start here at "Records Online" , select the "Document Type" called "Resolutions", select the "Legislative Body" called "City Council" and search on 64797, then 64798, then 64799. And, enjoy the legalese. 

See how easy it is to figure out what you are actually voting on? 

If you puzzle out those resolutions, as far as I can tell, the City of Berkeley is perfectly free to redirect general funds from the pools to other projects and make it up with borrowed Measure C money

A related so-called "myth" that Mr. Collier cites is that "Measure C borrows money for operating expenses. This is irresponsible budgeting." Borrowing money for operating expenses is irresponsible (akin to paying your electricity bill on your credit card for more than you can afford to quickly pay off in full). The only question is, does Measure C do that? Mr. Collier argues that "No bond funds can be spent on operations" and, yet, the Council Resolutions upon which we are voting seem to allow such a possibility. It is true that measure C includes a tax for operations that is separate from the tax from repaying bonds but it does not appear to be true to me that bond money can not be spent on operating expenses. The new pools include expansions of service and the start-up operating expenses of those can be funded using Mello-Roos bonds. 

At the heart of the matter, though - at least to my weary eyes (perhaps I should go for a swim) is this: 

Mr. Collier cites the so-called "myth" that: "The $22.6 million cost is way too high." 

In response to that "myth" he names a prestigious consulting agent who came up with that figure. What Mr. Collier hasn't told you is what instructions were given to that consultant - what plans they were trying to cost out. 

Here is a link to The Berkeley Citywide Pool Masterplan prepared by the "Pools Task Force" which included Mr. Collier. This is the "vision" document which informed the City Council resolutions upon which we are voting. 

The proposal Council considered is for some quite fancy pools. For fun, I suggest you take note of the proposed water slides, for example. I've nothing against water slides but as far as I can tell we could have been voting on four pools, including the warm water pool, for $10M strictly on capital expenditures while keeping operating expenditures "clean". Instead, we're voting on a project that includes too many "vanity" features at too great an expense with far too sketchy a financing model. 

Please consider a no vote on Measure C and also please consider urging our elected representatives to come up with a better plan as quickly as possible. 

The Water Resources Center Library

You may have heard, over the many years, that it's a bit difficult to work out exactly how much water should be moved from Northern California to the Central Valley for agriculture, or to LA for household use. Or you may have heard about the tricky and often legally contentious issues around the management of fish populations like salmon. Or, perhaps you've heard about the tricky engineering feats required to upgrade California's bridges. 

You may wonder (and if you haven't, you should now wonder) where the people who work those issues in practice get some of the obscure information they need to do their engineering or design their legislation or plan their bridge renovations. As it turns out... 

In its wisdom, some 50 or so years ago, the state legislature created a library archive to collect information about the condition and history of the state's water resources. Today that library, the Water Resources Center Archives, is rightly hailed as the nation's premier library on water resources. It is the "go to" research destination for private consultants, for the state government, and even for the federal government. It's on-line resources have been used by nearly half a million people. Approximately 65% of the physical materials it maintains are unique to that library and quite precious. 

Naturally, recent budget troubles in the University of California system have led to the threat of dismantling this library. No, really, it is under threat of losing the experts who maintain it and having the archived materials scattered about and generally rendered far less accessible, and far less likely to be updated in the future. Go figure. Why would any politician be in favor of obscuring vital information about California water resources? ("It's Chinatown, Jake"?) 

This reporter (yours, truly) is working on some more in depth coverage to be offered soon but, for now, please check out the advocacy site . It matters and Mr. Daniel Holmes (who is behind that web site) is helping to assemble some support to save that library. 

Oil and Water Don't Mix

Berkeley's own professor Robert G. Bea has been in the news a bit these days albeit in regards to a sad matter: the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. 

You may have caught him on "60 minutes". 

I would like to call your attention to the raw footage of an interview he gave to KGO (channel 7, on TV) in which he anticipated the failure of the "top kill" effort and gave a quite compelling account of just went wrong to lead to the disaster: Professor Bea on KGO.  

Bowling at Bankers

The other day my wife and I were getting ready to check out at the express lane at Berkeley Bowl. As we approached the line I did a double take and then whispered to my wife about the guy ahead of us "Hey, do you recognize him? That's Mr. Robert Reich". 

She didn't entirely believe me until she heard his distinctive voice and cadence talking to the clerk. 

I, of course, got all nervous and was trying too hard to not bug him to actually succeed at not bugging him. At the same time I was trying to think of something clever to say. My wife noticed this and, ever the mixer, loudly said "Try not to stare! :-)". 

Damn. No choice and nothing clever to say. I managed, as he looked over, to blurt out: "Uh, hi. I like your blog." Well, I'm no Leah Garchik but Mr. Reich quipped "At least somebody reads it." And, as we all had biked there that day, he passed along that the Bowl was offering some discounts that day for folks with bike helmets. Sound economic advice. 

I do like his blog. Recently he issued a call to action: What You Can Do to Bring Wall Street Under Control.