Save our pools: Invest in people, close the opportunity gap

By Maggie Knutson

Maggie Knutson, PhD, is a 5th Grade teacher at John Muir Elementary School.

When the last bell rings and school is out for the summer, I want my fifth graders to be reading, having adventures, and… doing cannonballs. Swimming is good, clean fun — and pools offer water safety, fitness, healthy social development (removed from phones, television and video games) and a sense of community.

Prior to 2010, there were four operational city pools serving four different communities in Berkeley. King pool in north Berkeley, West Campus pool in west Berkeley, the warm pool, serving our most vulnerable community (the very young, the disabled, the injured and the elderly) and, finally, Willard pool in south Berkeley. Built in 1963, Willard had fallen into disrepair and the city could not afford to make the necessary fixes to keep it open. Then, after a close and hard fought battle to get voters to fund an all-pools bond measure in 2010, it, along with the warm pool, was history.

Surveys are one of the City Council’s best ways to determine the needs of voters. Tonight they will discuss the results of the most recent community survey which will lead to final recommendations for the November 2012 ballot. However, data from surveys ought to be critically interpreted and considered in combination with data that is more representative of all of Berkeley citizens.

For example, in the latest survey, 58% of the 402 citizens questioned said that they were likely to be in favor of a bond that would rebuild Willard pool. This is about 10% shy of what is needed to pass the bond if it were on the ballot in November. However, almost one-third of the survey respondents were in a demographic unlikely to use Willard pool, ages 65 and over, and that’s roughly three times that age group’s population in Berkeley.

There were also misrepresentations in other groups, such as Asian and Latinos, and, of course, zero children were included in the survey.

That’s not to say the survey is flawed or it shouldn’t be considered, rather that it be interpreted with the understanding of whose voices are being amplified and whose are being marginalized.

In June 2008, the City Council paired with BUSD to create a 2020 Vision, which, in large part, was designed to close the achievement gap, a noble intention. To this end, the city committed to “develop plans… to remove barriers to learning and to promote healthy development for all Berkeley children and youth.” Most scholars and educators who study the “achievement gap” now call it “the opportunity gap” because it disproportionately impacts students of color who come from low-income backgrounds and who have fewer opportunities and less access to healthy and enriching experiences.

The two wealthiest zip codes are in north Berkeley near King pool (average household income there is more than double that of the densely populated west and south Berkeley). When one considers 2020 Vision and the wealth distribution in Berkeley, it is clear that closing Willard pool is in opposition to that vision. It limits access to water safety, fitness, and healthy social and community development for low-income students and students of color in that area of south Berkeley, where there is already a dearth of parks and green space.

We need to invest in all of our pools and do what is necessary to make sure they are functional and accessible to all populations, especially those in traditionally underserved areas.

The Institute of Medicine recently collaborated with the producers of an HBO series called The Weight of the Nation citing very scary statistics. The percentage of children aged 6-11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. In addition, children consume more than 7.5 hours of media a day, 7 days a week. The Institute is urging communities to provide places where children affected by the opportunity gap can get the exercise needed to stay healthy:

Obesity risks are often disproportionate among minority, low-income, less educated, and rural populations, due to inequitable distribution of health promotion resources and community risk factors that contribute to disparities in obesity prevalence. For example, some communities may have no safe places to walk or play…. Because these inequities often result from policy decisions, change will require targeted efforts to promote and support robust, long-term community engagement and civic participation. (May, 2012)

As a teacher who works to over-serve the underserved at my school, the closing of Willard pool is confounding. We need a unified, concerted effort to better serve Berkeley citizens, child and adult, able-bodied and disabled, who are currently being underserved. I urge you to contact your councilmembers and join all pool supporters at the council meeting tonight to show your support for health, fitness and strong communities.

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  • serkes

    Appraisals and assessed value are actually two different things.

    The appraisal is done by the lender as part of the loan process. From time to time, we see sales prices higher than appraised value.  It’s up the the buyer whether or not they wish to cancel, renegotiate, or proceed with the sale when that happens.

    The assessed value is the value that the County values the home at. It’s usually (probably always, but I’ve not looked into it) the home’s purchase price within that tax year. 

    Some buyers look the the assessed value of a home as an indicator of market value .. but with Prop 13 any correlation would be the equivalent of a stopped watch being correct twice a day (unless you’re on 24 hour time)


  • Anonymous

    Look more closely. BSEP funds, with very few exceptions, are used for things that every reasonable person would assume general funds for. Much of the enrichment programs are now paid for by your school’s PTA and other donations from families.

  • Anonymous

     If it actually went towards meaningful education I’d be more than willing to pay twice that.  I already easily pay that amount now in supplemental education during the year since BUSD is almost entirely focused on remedial education and summer programs like ATDP (http://atdp.berkeley.edu/).

  • Anonymous

    As long as they can stay up late smoking their medicine, watch cartoons projected onto a sheet, and sleep in until 10am I bet they’d be all for it.

  • Anonymous

     That sounds more like the year-round system where it’s still roughly 10 months of education but the 2 months off is distributed throughout the year.  My brother used to teach in a district like that and I agree, it seemed to be an absolute nightmare.  What I mean is you go to school year-round, not on a 10 month cycle.  Maybe add a two vacation in the summer or something like that.  I know that would be easier for at least these working parents.

  • Anonymous

     Of course not, but that’s where the bulk of tax revenue is for parcel taxes.  Everybody, including renters (for the most part), pays though.

  • Anonymous

     Unfortunately you’ve already paid to maintain the roads, it’s just that the money was used for salaries and benefits and now you have to pay to fix the roads (which is much more expensive when they haven’t been maintained).  Every time you slam into a pot hole or have to replace prematurely worn tires on your car remember that, just to pick a recent example, our former city manager is enjoying a very comfortable retirement with whatever he managed to save with his $242,000 per year salary, the $150,000 cash he took for unused sick time, and the $250,000 per year he’ll make every year until he dies.

  • Anonymous

     In a rational world that’s what would happen.  The city would never allow that on their (and trust me, they consider it their property) property though anymore than a corporation would allow you to use their facilities, equipment, etc. to run a non-profit that doesn’t benefit their business in some way.  These grifters see whatever revenue the city manages to bring in as income for themselves and they are not going to give up that kind of money without legal action (which will also be paid by you).

  • Precisely.  Consider, for example, the Physical Education program at John Muir, where Maggie teaches, and whose outcomes are specifically directed at the childhood obesity epidemic she addresses above.  You would think that it would be paid for by general funds.  Failing that, you’d think that BSEP would cover the costs, as is hinted at on the BSEP page.

    Alas, no, John Muir’s PTA site informs us that the non-profit Playworx provides a 45 minute PE class each week and goes on to say that “the program receives supplemental funding by John Muir’ s PTA and is a
    priority of the PTA’ s fundraising efforts.”

  • Greg

    Can you explain your methodology?  I’m not saying you’re wrong, but unless I’m missing something it seems very, very unlikely.

    My understanding is that about 55% of parcel tax revenue comes from residential properties.  My *guess* is that the bulk of non-residential properties are within the downtown and west Berkeley neighborhoods.

    Given the parcel taxes are based on building square footage (or in the case of the storm water tax, lot square footage) you’re effectively claiming that the vast majority of residential square footage resides in north Berkeley.

    Ira, can you confirm this?

    If your claim is indeed true can you also explain how you account for use of resources?  I must admit, my little brain leaps to the conclusion that if most residential square footage is in north Berkeley then maybe most of the people are in north Berkeley too (and that they may even consume most of the resources?).

    As for the Ad Valorem portion of the tax bill, I *think* the City of Berkeley/BUSD portion amounts to a .2384% tax.  As far as City of Berkeley only taxes a 1500 sf house in north Berkeley assessed at $1M pays about the same as a 3000 sf house in south Berkeley assessed at $500K.

    Of course the 1% county wide assessment dramatically tilts that the other way. I honestly have no clue how much of that money makes it way back to the city.

    If you’ve tackled that portion of the tax bill can you explain how you accounted for the skewing of assessed value due to Prop. 13?  Did you use pure brute force on the full data set, or did you develop some sort of model?

  • EBGuy

    On a side note, did everyone enjoy the brief property tax holiday this past year?   Taxes were flat across my last two returns as the upward trajectory halted (and briefly went down) for the 2010-11 property tax bill.  No worries, though, as the new school bonds are coming online.  As a side benefit, we get new administration facilities at West Campus (yes they were needed), but we can also reclaim the funds spent on leasing at the old city hall for general expenditures. 

  • Lori

    As a person who regularly used the “Warm Pool Boondoggle” and have NO place to to now, because the Y which I am now a member, doesn’t work for me, but I have to go SOMEWHERE, to ensure I can “hold on” till I can get back to warmer waters, and not end up in a wheel chair.  I wonder how many people posting here are in wheelchairs, severe pain, or because the warm pool closed, are bedridden. I agree Willard pool NEVER should have been filled with dirt. That was our mayors decision, and it cost quite a bit to do so. It used to be that children couldn’t graduate without swimming, which is why the pools were close to the schools; that ended in about 2000. I could go on about how warm pools make money all over the country, but who would listen here on Berkeleyside? Nada. Let our children swim, and please, even if you don’t give a damn about the disabled children, adults, elderly, teaching programs, parent and tot times, family swim, and all the other programs that took place at the warm pool, could you show a bit of humanity. I realize, I am probably speaking to the wind, but I thought I’d try..

  • Berkeleyfarm


    The reason the previous measure failed is that it was loaded with tasty,
    tasty pork in an era when local taxpayers don’t necessarily have a lot to spare
    and have already (repeatedly) reached into their pockets for the schools and
    libraries. I vote for school bonds, although this may change with my new
    knowledge of various shenanigans (I’m shocked that PTAs still have to raise
    money for _things like PE_). I voted against the overstuffed pool bond. I
    was phone surveyed for it and expressed my disapproval of the “We want a pony”

    The overinflated retirement package given to the former City Manager could
    have kept the pools open AND the potholes filled! A lot of taxpayers think it’s
    throwing good money after bad.    I might be in favor of a Willard-only measure, especially if it could be
    staffed without additional city expense (aren’t our staff ratios way above what
    similar cities, like Santa Monica, have?) by reassigning staff from current
    duties.   A laundry list of projects gets a NO vote from this (District 2) voter. 

  • Anonymous

    Did we really need an administration office at West campus that costs 14 million dollars (the May meeting packet)?  If/When you voted for measure I did you really think nearly 7% of it would be used for an administration building instead of fixing the sad, dilapidated messes that most of our elementary schools are? It will undoubtedly end up being more 7%. I predict it will be like the huge building the UC office of the president built in downtown Oakland…it was so big and the UC administration so top heavy that by the time it was completed it was too small for all of the staff.

  • Anonymous

    Did we really need an administration office at West campus that costs 14 million dollars (the May meeting packet)?  If/When you voted for measure I did you really think nearly 7% of it would be used for an administration building instead of fixing the sad, dilapidated messes that most of our elementary schools are? It will undoubtedly end up being more 7%. I predict it will be like the huge building the UC office of the president built in downtown Oakland…it was so big and the UC administration so top heavy that by the time it was completed it was too small for all of the staff.

  • Anonymous

    PE, PE instructors and equipment, library books, heavily subsidized after-school programs, field trips, equipment for the office and material for classrooms (including furniture!), and that’s just stuff off the top of my head from this year.   I did the arithmetic the other night and the amount I pay towards school bond measures and BSEP taxes plus money I’ve either given anonymously to the school or to the PTA this year exceeded the amount I would have spent at a mid-cost private school for one child.  I’m not even including my time in fundraising and doing work at the school (handyman stuff, clean up from events, etc.) which often involves me having to leave work early which costs me in vacation time.  Unlike our former city manager I don’t get to accrue “sick leave” that I could use for this.

    Other than maintaining teacher ratios BSEP is pretty much just general fund now (i.e., administrative pay) just like GATE money is and it’s all spent in unaccountable ways at the whim of the administration.  I definitely would never vote for another school bond or tax knowing what I know now about how the district operates after being in it for three years and I used to be the sort of voter that would vote for any tax or bond measure that had the word “school” in it without a second thought regardless of whether I thought it was worthwhile.

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    Lori, I didn’t say that the previously used BHS pool, which by happy accident became known as the warm pool you were so fortunate to be able to use, was a boondoggle.  The bond that was on last election’s ballot was a boondoggle, and in today’s economic times, Berkeley can’t afford to add a new piece of infrastructure like this.  I am in favor of keeping existing City infrastructure in usable condition and especially in one of the most diverse areas of  Berkeley (i.e. Willard). Instead of insisting the City do it, when clearly the warm water pool would benefit and attract users from all over the East Bay, why not work with one of the many organizations at Ed Roberts to do a major fundraising effort and do this as a non-profit?  Why must the city of Berkeley and the overburdened homeowner/taxpayers be saddled with the cost exclusively, when the vast majority of them or their families are unlikely to be regular users?  It is time to stop thinking of Berkeley taxpayers as the single source of funding for grand plans such as this.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    See tonight’s school board packet. Warm pool plans at west campus, even thought here s no voter support.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    And according to tonight’s packet, they want to put the wam pool there too.

  • mslisa

    wow. this is fascinating. i’m one of those low-income, children of color who was raised in Berkeley. I went to Willard in middle school and graduated from BHS.  I now teach in East Oakland at an independent, African-centered school. Why? Because of the opportunity gap. I’ve seen many documentaries and read all the statistics.  I am one of those statistics, just like my students; fighting for opportunity  under an unjust and inequitable system of oppression. That’s what it is and always has been. Why is North Berkeley predominantly white and affluent and South Berkeley predominately Black and low-income? It was red-lined several generations ago. I had many wonderful teachers coming up through BUSD, but ultimately the choice to go on to college and get out was my own. My mother was ruined by the stress of single-parenting and poverty.  

    I read Outliers and I think yes, that students below proficiency should be in full-day summer school and in that include psychical education and social development. Why not pass a city measure to subsidize that instead of crying the blues over Cafe Gratitude closing. Do you ever see Black people eating there? No. Give all the kids in Berkeley something better.