Comment: What’s wrong with the June pool bond

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.