An eleventh hour attempt to save Willard Pool, at least for the summer, has been hatched by the head of a Berkeley neighborhood association and will be presented at tonight’s City Council meeting by councilmember Gordon Wozniak who supports the idea.
The proposal, conceived by George Beier, the President of the Willard Neighborhood Association, would see money diverted from subsidies currently given to city employees for membership of the YMCA. The city provides $230,000 a year to subsidize YMCA memberships for its staff. According to Beier, employees pay $15 towards membership, while the city picks up the remaining $45, and an estimated 425 staffers take advantage of the offer.
Beier says if the subsidy was eliminated altogether, Willard Pool could re-open permanently, and if it were reduced from $45 to $30, the city would save $77,000 which is almost enough to keep Willard Pool open for the rest of the summer. “The city would still pay half of the cost of the membership — still a great perk for the staff. And we could keep Willard Pool open. I urge you to reduce the YMCA subsidy from 75% to 50%. It’s a small cost for each staffer to pay – and a huge, huge benefit for our neighborhood and our city,” wrote Beier in a letter to Mayor Bates and the City Council.
Willard Pool is due to close for good tomorrow after Measure C, the ballot proposition that would have funded rehabilitation of Berkeley’s four pools, failed to garner enough votes to pass earlier this month.
“The pool is an incredibly valuable community resource. It would break my heart to see a closed sign there,” said Beier. “Some people say band-aids aren’t good, but when you’re bleeding, a band-aid is the perfect thing.”
Beier believes his proposal could keep the pool open for the rest of the season, which requires a total of $81,000 in funding, and that “a more creative solution” could be found for next year.
“I feel that keeping open a neighborhood pool and provide swimming lessons for our children is a higher priority than subsidizing YMCA memberships for city employees,” said councilmember Wozniak whose district includes the Willard area. “The city is extremely generous to give 75% subsidies on YMCA memberships. A 50-50 split would be enough. It would be a great and fair outcome if this proposal is passed.”
Last week Wozniak, along with councilmember Kriss Worthington, put forward another proposal which might have saved Willard, as well as other resources. This one would have involved diverting funds for street repairs in their districts. It failed to pass, receiving four of the necessary five votes.
The approval for subsidized YMCA memberships for the next financial year is also on the agenda at tonight’s council meeting.