Community rallies to get pool measure on ballot

Students, parents, and community members rally on Sunday to reopen Willard Pool. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

About 75 people rallied on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Derby Street in Berkeley Sunday afternoon to convince the City Council to put a pool bond measure on the November ballot.

Holding signs that read “Save Willard Pool,” and “Honk if you like to swim,” the group of students, parents, and community members yelled, chanted, and encouraged people to sign a petition that called for the reopening of Willard pool, which was closed and filled with dirt in 2010. (The petition is also posted at

“I would like to see Willard Pool open again,” said Amelie Melde Fontenay, a parent of a Willard School student. “My only son got here just in time to see the pool filled in with dirt. I don’t think it’s fair that the other two (middle) schools have pools and Willard doesn’t.”

The protest rose out of an assignment that Maggie Knutsen gave to her fifth-grade students at John Muir Elementary School. Knutsen was planning to teach them how to write a persuasive essay and wanted to root it in real-world problems. She presented a number of Berkeley issues to her class, and they chose to focus on the state of the pools in Berkeley. Knutsen then invited Robert Collier, one of the co-chairs of Measure C, the unsuccessful June 2010 measure to raise funds for area pools, to talk to the class. The idea of holding a rally to protest Willard’s closure came from that discussion, she said.

Odessa Newman, 11, Allyn Suzuki, 11, Caroline Hall, 11 (top) and Berenabas Gethun, 11 and came to the pool rally on Sunday. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Knutsen’s students were well represented Sunday, as were students from Emerson, Malcolm X and other south Berkeley schools.

“I love Willard Pool,” said Caroline Hall, 11, a fifth grader at Malcolm X. “I believe next year when I go here, there should be a pool so we can have fun. What’s a rectangle with dirt in it good for?”

The protestors are facing daunting odds. While the city council is planning to discuss a pool ballot measure on Tuesday, it only addresses the question of whether to build a new $10.5 million warm pool at the West Campus on University Avenue. The proposed bond measure under discussion does not include funds to reopen Willard or refurbish any other area pools.

Part of the reason for the proposed bond measure’s narrow focus is because a recent citywide survey showed lukewarm support for a comprehensive refurbishment of the pools. Lake Research Partners conducted a survey on behalf of the city from March 14 to 19. The research firm asked 430 likely voters about their willingness to pay higher property taxes to fund $523 million in deferred maintenance on roads, parks, pools, sewers, seismic retrofits of city buildings and other projects. Only 29% of those surveyed thought fixing the city pools was a high priority. Only improving the area around the marina had less support. Paving and fixing streets and improving the storm drains had the highest support, with 68% of the respondents saying they were a high priority.

When asked specifically about two proposals – to spend $500,000 to repair existing pools or spend $22 million to do the repair, reopen Willard, and build a new warm pool – the support was below the two-thirds needed to win in an election.

The mid-March survey of likely voters indicated that there is not a two-thirds majority, the amount required by law, to pass a new bond measure to repair the city's pools.

Pool supporters are critical of  the wording of the survey, saying the questions were asked out of context and implied that much of the money would be used to build new facilities rather than refurbish existing ones.

“The survey was very deceptive,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington as he held up a banner at Sunday’s rally. “The questions were slanted.”

The City Council on Tuesday will consider whether to do another phone survey to likely voters as part of a process to see what bond measures voters might pass. Those at the rally were hoping to persuade the council to include better worded questions about residents’ willingness to pay for an ambitious pool project.

An old lifeguard chair stands lonely sentinel over a filled-in Willard pool. The plants in the front are the remnants of a winter garden planted by students. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

“What do we ask the Council to do?” reads a post on the website of the Berkeley Pools Campaign.  “While emails and phone calls are flying fast and furious among pools’ activists, the emerging consensus seems to be a two-part request to Council:

  1. Reword the four-pools option to include the essential information that Willard and Warm pools have been closed permanently, with the latter soon to be demolished, and that the proposal is to rebuild and re-open them.
  2. Ask for a Warm Pool-only question to be posed, with no mention of the other pools.

More than $100m needed for parks, rec and waterfront [09.29.11]
Will Willard Pool become a vegetable garden? [03.14.11]
Willard swimming pool now filled with mud [01.05.11]
Comment: Voting on Measure C shows a city split [07.01.10]
Swimmers lament today’s closing of Willard Pool [06.30.10]
Last gasp bid to save Willard Pool eyes city subsidies [06.29.10]
Pools majority falls short: closures expected [06.09.10]

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  • BerkeleyCitizen

    I totally support re-opening Willard and insisting that the City use the appropriate budget funds for maintaining the existing City Infrastructure. I would even vote for a small bond to be paid via property taxes to revamp and update/improve the three City pools. I have kids and would love for them to be able to swim at Willard.  However, I do not support tying the existing City pools with building a new Warm Pool. And if the bond measure includes the Warm Pool, I will make a bet that Berkeley will not pass the measure again.  I hope the politicians who decide what goes on the ballot are listening.  

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

     ” I don’t think it’s fair that the other two (middle) schools have pools and Willard doesn’t.” I’m not sure what other middle school they are talking about but king is the only middle school with a pool Longfellow has no pool but it has it’s share of drug dealers all around the neighborhood and Willard doesn’t have that so consider yourselves lucky.

  • David D.

    These pool measures won’t die. Didn’t we vote one down last election? Was that “no” not enough?

    I come from a much larger city that has about as many pools as Berkeley does, and we managed just fine. To have as many options as we do in such a small geographic area is a blessing.

  • Brent Elmwood

    Willard pool was an outdoor facility which was generally open to the public from  June 16th through August 22nd, a bit over two months.  Berkeley has a cool climate so outdoor pools have limited usefulness. It is not an essential public facility.   
    Time to face reality, folks.        

  • Lumpy

    Eighty percent of the city budget goes to employee costs.  As you may have noticed, there is very little money for maintenance of infrastructure.  You will have your opportunity to vote on a bond measure, but it won’t be little….more like a billion dollars.  

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

     The person who made that comment was probably referring to the pool at West Campus and just thought the other two middle schools, not just King, had a pool.

  • John Holland

    “3rdGenGerkeley” wrote:

     Longfellow has no pool but it has it’s share of drug dealers all around the neighborhood and Willard doesn’t have that

    But there is a dispensary just two blocks away. I thought dispensaries are a magnet for drug dealers?

  • Guest
  • John Holland

    A dead horse? I wish it were.

    We still have folks here talking about “the nexus between robberies and pot clubs.

    In a recent interview, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said:

    People in the community may be supportive of the dispensary being in their community until there’s a robbery and people come running out of the dispensary shooting guns.

    In fact, just a few months ago, you yourself wrote that “all the clubs have thugs hanging around outside is it a coincidence that a lot of shootings are happening in the vicinity of these pot clubs.” You also wrote that “thugs hang out around the pot clubs” and that “shootings don’t happen at the dispensaries…they happen 1 or 2 blocks away there’s no stats for what happens 2 blocks away.”

    Now, you’re saying Willard doesn’t have that problem, though it is 2 blocks away from a dispensary. I agree with you. We agree more than you think. It’s a good observation, and one that throws a wrench in the works for people with knee jerk opposition to sick people getting their medicine. Thank you.

  • Berkopinionator

    Make Berkeley pools showcases for solar hot water systems for swimming pools.  We can keep the pools warm and comfortable with our sunshine and save money!  Re-open Willard pool for the kids and the community!

  • Bruce Love

    It’s going to be hard to recover the pools. 

    Step 1: Neglect some high value piece of civic infrastructure — the pools!   This is especially easy because the ones most in need of attention are the ones most used by the least advantaged of us.

    Step 2: Put forward a needlessly high-priced proposal not merely to reverse the neglect, not to frugally preserve services, but to do something extra fancy.

    Step 3: Watch that proposal fail.

    Step 4: Noticing that the neglected facilities have now fallen apart, demolish!

    And now, in tough economic times, try to go back to step 2?

  • south Berkeley resident

    The closure of Willard Pool contributes to the inequity of the city’s fiscal support of south Berkeley, the home of more low-income families than the neighborhoods to the north. Children in this community, many of whom do not have access to King or West campus pools, need a place to learn to swim in order to be water-safe.  It is tremendous disservice to this community, together with Willard Middle School which teaches the majority of south zone 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, to have closed this facility.

    The Berkeley City Council should do the right thing and allocate funds to restore and reopen Willard Pool. I encourage anyone who is concerned about this issue to attend the City Council meeting this Tuesday evening, May 1, to make your views known!

  • Guest

    i’m not 3rdGenBerkeleyan

  • John Holland

    Whoa, my mega-bad, and my apologies.

  • Chris

    Expensive warm water pool that is rarely open to the entire community? No thanks.

    Spend the same amount of money to modernize and repair all other pools – including Willard – yes please!

  • Anotherguest


    Just how important are pot dispensaries in your own life? 

    It seems like a topic you are greatly preoccupied with.  Do you suffer from a “medical condition” which requires this medicine or are you just concerned that others have access to their medication?

  • Guest

    If we could all agree that former city manager Phil Kamlarz could comfortably and fairly retire after many years of yeoman’s service for, say, $100,000 per year, rather than $250,000 per year and if we took that $150,000 per year saving and applied it to maintaining our pools, how far would that go?

    What if Berkeley city employees were not all entitled to a free annual YMCA Memberships?  Let’s say we split that cost with those who wanted to join and applied that savings to the pools?  What if the city employees collectively took a 10-15% pay and benefit cut (which would still leave them with more total compensation than most Berkeley tax payers) and we applied that cost savings to building or restoring pools????

  • Guest

    Can we have a pool in the Berkeley Hills please? We pay the most in property taxes and get the least in services. 

  • Berkeley Swimmer and Taxpayer

    Oh here we go again!  As a swimming enthusiast and a Berkeley homeowner who pays a lot of property tax here is my view.  Since bond measures cost the city in interest, they should not be used for simple repairs but instead for items that will bring in revenue to the city in the long run.  If we can’t make basic repairs with the budget we have, then something is wrong.  

    Now, back to the pool issue.  The existing pools and their facilities are total crap.  I am bitter that despite my high taxes I have to drive out to the El Cerrito Swim Center or Richmond Plunge to use adequately clean and pleasant facilities.  I can’t even go to the Y as they just turn their heads while dirty disgusting obviously unshowered masses use their pool.  The “ick” factor is just too high.  

    A warm pool sounds nice.  The warm pool’s proponents make good arguments in it’s good for the community.  We are a very small city.  Why maintain numerous crappy facilities when we can close these decrepit dismal places and create one large facility with a variety of pools for the needs of different swimmers?  And for pete’s sake, do it right!  I’m thinking at least two competition size lap pools that will meet the needs of competitions and serious lap swimmers. Maybe put one of them indoors for rainy weather.  A warm pool for those who need to do their rehabilitative stuff.  And a large fun family pool with a toddler area. And then, how about a grassy area to sit?  Pleasant and adequate changing facilities?   Berkeley needs to attract families, particularly those with decent income if we are going to sustain our local economy.  A recreational facility like I just described would really help with this.  Berkeley is always trying to plug holes and do things on the cheap, and you know what, it is chasing families away.  Just once can’t we have something nice?  We can charge non-residents more.  Lets get creative with our revenue sourcing – a gourmet snack bar, corporate sponsorship, a starbucks?  Whatever it takes to make this happen.  

    I absolutely will not pay more tax for a warm pool built on top of our current facilities and will even rally against it. But if you make something nice, something I would actually consider using and bringing my family to, well then yeah, I can find a way to afford the extra tax (and I”m certainly not rich!)  Projects like this are too important for Berkeley’s future. 

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Albany just built a new pool and they could afford it because they don’t spend their money trying to educate the whole east bay.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    I have to agree with this pretty heartily.  The measure had a lot of fluff.  I got a really long survey call during the planning process and had to laugh at the idea of adding “kid friendly features” – pools are generally Child Magnets IME. 

    With that being said I would support a more basic measure that could re-open Willard Pool. 

  • Bruce Love

     I wish for a way to press for a simple but effective warm pool on the cheap.   I have a very strong impression and understanding that it really does add directly and indirectly a lot of value to the community, and all that on top of the simple “feel good” aspect of its medical applications.   Let’s figure out a sly, effective way to get through, say, the next 10 years with Willard and a “warm solution” but without laying out excessive funds.   I bet it can be done, although we’ve certainly made the job a lot harder these past few years, via demolition-by-neglect.

    Not everything we build has to be built for the ages.

    It’s OK to build for honest use. That can be classy and conservative, too.

  • Informed Resident

    Berkeley has over $500M in infrastructure needs and over $500M in unfunded personnel liabilities.  Employee costs have been gobbling up the budget.  Annual City expenses exceed annual City revenues and the situation is worsening..  Berkeley taxpayers are maxed out and real property values are down to 2002 levels or worse.  .  When the whole array of needs is apparent, especially for roads, sewers, parks, and seismic retrofits of public buildings, we must focus on things of benefit to the entire community.  To my mind, fixing up existing pools, such as Willard, does have high value for the larger community and the cost might be relatively reasonable.  Willard Pool could have been kept open for relatively little money but was closed seemingly in retribution.  Existing pools  should not be coupled with a “hot water pool” that serves very few residents and for which there are reasonable though not perfect alternatives.  If the last pool bond measure had not been so overreaching, it may well have passed.  That was then.  Now however, the public is more aware of the near insolvency of the City, the terrible economy, and all the other needs comprising the $1.2B liability. The voter survey was done by professionals and monkeying around with the wording probably won’t change its results nor the results of an election.  We need a thoughtful 20 year plan, created by and for the whole community and not by special interest groups,  to gradually work our way out of the fiscal mess.

  • South Berkeley Resident

    Yes, that may be true, but it was quite a misleading comment to put in the body of the article since the West Campus pool is closed most of the school year and is not even within walking distance for Longfellow middle schoolers…

  • Lori

    Albany included the new pools with a school bond as a service to the community and to help children swim.  They only needed a 50 % vote to do this. Can you imagine the BUSD doing this?

  • tenjen

    Never heard about the citywide survey. I didn’t even know about the rally until after it happened. If I’d known this was going on, I’d have signed on long ago. (Just signed the petition, hoping it’s not too late.) I hope they call me if they do a phone survey…

  • Hyper_lexic

    “I can’t even go to the Y as they just turn their heads while dirty disgusting obviously unshowered masses use their pool”

    Wouldn’t those same unshowered masses use any pool in Berkeley?

  • Guest

    What evidence do you have that people in the hills pay more in property tax? According to the City’s website, City of Berkeley special assessments, taxes, and fees are based on building or lot (parcel) square footage, not the assessed value. Not only that, delivering services to hills dwellers cost more money. Paving a sloping, curvy stretch of road costs more than paving a flat, straight one. Driving City trucks up and down the hills wears them out faster and uses more fuel.

  • Guest

    Re-open Willard and leave the warm pool out of the equation. Those warm
    pool folks cost BUSD a lot of money and inconvenience by delaying the
    demolition of the old gym at the high school. 

  • Lori

    Not exactly, in this case: we had 63 percent of the vote in an election that had nothing on the ballot that encouraged people to vote. We had the lowest turnout since sometime in the 70’s. Over 1500 people used the warm pool, and more each day. We have a list of about 800 -900 people, and that was just a partial list. We were only open 36 hours a week, because of it being housed in the school. Now, my symptoms have become much worse, and the Y, doesn’t help. It is a solution for some, but not for the majority. All our classes have been cancelled, and there isn’t any other pool that is warm enough to accommodate them. None. It would be one thing if there were no warm pool, but for so many years people depended on it. Now, it is gone without a replacement.  Can you imagine your medicine that you’ve used for years, suddenly becoming no longer available? My doctor wrote me a prescription for the warm pool, Also, when the vets return, the pool is a known source of healing for PTSS. So, are we going to just throw this pool away and say we don’t care about these people? One day you could need a pool like the warm pool. Enough.