Berkeley Voters to Consider Renovation of Public Pools

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This June, Berkeley voters will consider a more than $21 million bond measure to renovate the city's ailing public pools following the city council's ten-month discussion and Feb. 9 approval of the project.

For the project to move forward, a two-thirds majority of voters must approve the bond measure, which would fund the $19.3 million renovation of the city's three existing public pools­ in addition to the construction of a warm water pool, according to city officials.

If passed, the bond measure will also account for $900,000 in annual operating costs, including expansion of services and a 25 percent increase in pool hours.

Altogether, the proposal will cost each city household $58 per year.

At its meeting Feb. 9, the Berkeley City Council finally rounded out its discussion of possible improvement packages for the four pools under consideration, which Councilmember Darryl Moore said are in "bad shape."

"The pools are nearly as old as me," said 53-year-old swim coach Blythe Lucero. "And the city has done its best."

The council chose an option that includes renovation of the pools and facilities at Martin Luther King Jr. and Willard Middle Schools. Also in the plan is the construction of a new warm water pool and renovations to an existing pool, both at West Campus Junior High School.

Although other, more expensive proposals considered by the council may have allowed for greater amenities and city services, the council approved the most basic package after consideration of voters' response to a tax increase.

"It's probably not the most popular (option), and it's certainly not the sexiest one, but it's the one the voters said they would support," said JoAnn Cook, co-chair of One Warm Pool and the Berkeley Pools Campaign, at the Feb. 9 meeting.

In a January survey of 400 Berkeley residents, 63 percent of those surveyed said they would vote in favor of the $19 million measure to fund the renovations, according to city officials. Still, some community members expressed concern that the improvements may not inspire adequate voter support.

"I doubt any of the options will pass," said Berkeley resident David Mayer at the meeting. "None of them really represents new ideas. The options before you speak to the current swimmers and don't reach out in any way to people who don't already use the pools."

Moore said the measure will not be an easy sell to voters, but that its benefits are worth the price tag.

"It's a hefty goal," he said. "It's

going to take all hands and a lot of

effort. Given the state of the economy, people aren't too pleased about additional taxes or a bond measure. But the survey has shown, and we know, that these pools are important."

Berkeley resident Dove Scherr, who said she swims in community pools four times a week, also said the council-approved option is not ideal.

"It's the barely nothing option," she said. "The more money that could be spent on the pools, the better, but I do understand that we don't have unlimited money."

But Shelley Hayden, a co-chair of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, said the city's entire community will benefit from­-and support-the renovations.

"Swimming in Berkeley is from six months to the end of life, for the able-bodied to the not able-bodied," she said. "I feel confident that the people in our community who aren't currently swimming, they ... still care about it."

Now that the measure has its place on the June ballot, Hayden said the Berkeley Pools Campaign and involved residents have turned their focus to the campaign to pass the measure, which will include a community video to be released on the group's Web site.

Cook added the pool community will unite around the council-approved measure, even though some interest groups may not be fully satisfied.

"There have been some scrabbles in the past, quite a few, I will say that," Cook said. "But at this point, we're all just looking to pull together and move forward."


Sarah Springfield covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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