Latest Measure to Save Willard Pool Rejected

Despite 'Creative' Ideas, Future of Pool Is Murky

Nathan Yan/File

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A last-ditch effort to save the Willard Pool by diverting funds from a city employee benefit was voted down by the Berkeley City Council Tuesday night, all but sealing the fate of the pool that is set to close Wednesday.

The effort, spearheaded by George Beier, president of the Willard Neighborhood Association, would have reduced a city subsidy given to city employees for YMCA memberships by 25 percent - enough money, he said, to keep the pool open through the summer until a permanent solution could be forged in the fall.

Since 1989, the city has paid for 75 percent of city employees' YMCA memberships. The cost for the 2009-10 fiscal year was $244,962 for 439 employees at $46.50 per month.

Councilmembers quickly shot down the proposal, calling it an illegal violation of numerous city contracts that were not open for negotiation. Councilmember Kriss Worthington called the plan a "slap in the face" to city employees who, a week earlier, had agreed to voluntarily reduce their hours and wages in order to prevent 30 citywide layoffs included in the city's budget.

"Scrambling" to Save the Pool

Though the plan was rejected in a 1-8 vote, Councilmember Susan Wengraf called the idea "creative" and told the pool's supporters to keep trying to craft ideas to save the pool.

"I don't think this idea is going to work, but I want you to keep on looking for a solution," she told the packed room.

Beier said he and other pool supporters have been "scrambling" for ways to keep the pool open since Measure C - a June 8 ballot measure that would have funded the city's four pools - failed to gain the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

Last week's contentious council meeting even saw a rare collaboration between Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Gordon Wozniak, when each proposed forgoing the repavement of a street in their respective districts and using the savings to keep the pool open.

The council rejected the "Worthington/Wozniak Sacrifice" in a 4-5 vote last week, saying the money saved should go to the city's general fund to save more vital programs.

Tuesday night's plan to cut the city's subsidies was thought to be a less vital alternative source of funds, according to Beier.

"We are not choosing between one vital resource and another vital resource," Beier told the council. "We are choosing between an employee perk and a vital resource."

Council members voiced their sympathy but nonetheless said the plan would be a breach of current contracts with Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and Public Employees Union Local 1. Councilmembers Wengraf and Worthington said they were willing to consider new measures to save the pool at the July 13 meeting.

"Instead of alienating people, attacking the employees who just gave so much, let's work on building a consensus by July 13 that is legal and practical," Worthington said.

Some Hope Remains for Pools

Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmember Linda Maio and Worthington all said the pool's supporters stood a better chance of keeping the pool open if they lobby the Berkeley Unified School District to include funds for Willard's restoration in the district's recently approved $210 million bond measure.

The Nov. 2 ballot measure will ask voters to renew expired bonds, not exceeding $172.80 per $100,000 of assessed property value, to fund improvements to district facilities.

The measure would fund construction of a new athletic facility at Berkeley High School, additional elementary and pre-kindergarten classrooms, upgrades to technology in classrooms and the installation of solar panels and other energy-saving improvements.

Worthington said the measure would stand a better chance at the ballot box if it encapsulated both the school's and the pool's constructions.

"It is the school district's property," Bates said. "They can put money in it with their bond."


Javier Panzar is the news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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