City Council approves pools measure, debates streets

Council voted to put a pools measure on the ballot. Willard Pool, which was filled with dirt in 2011, is top of mind. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

A comparatively quiet City Council meeting sprang into life late last night as councilmembers discussed whether to prioritize street repair over watershed improvements in a November ballot bond measure. The council also approved unanimously to put a $19.4 million pools bond measure on the ballot, along with a parcel tax to pay for pools’ operational costs.

Public comment focused exclusively on the long-running campaign to restore the Willard Pool and the city’s warm pool. Although pools supporters were cheered by the unanimous support for the measure, many expressed concern about the need for a second tax measure. The measures are linked — both need to pass for either to be brought into effect.

“Just getting a bond measure is not enough. We need a bond measure that can pass,” said pools supporter Donna Mickleson. She described the “poison pill” of the linked measures as “disastrous.”

While the pools measure sailed through the council, a proposed $30 million bond for watershed and streets proved contentious. Mayor Tom Bates proposed an amendment raising the bond to $50 million so that more street improvements could be included, but that failed to attract support. Councilmembers were divided about the total amount of bonds that should be included on the ballot, the politics of the measure, and the importance of watershed improvements.

Councilmembers with constituents in the flats were generally supportive of the plan to integrate watershed improvements with some street projects. But Susan Wengraf, whose district is in the hills, questioned the allocation of funds, and Bates said stressing watershed over streets was wrong. Kriss Worthington cautioned that adding money for streets on top of the $30 million was “fiscally irresponsible.”

“You can’t be greedy and go for the big dollar amounts,” he said. “We’ve got to be cautious and we’ve got to be reasonable. To go forward with two Lexus-quality bond measures doesn’t make sense.”

“The streets are so bad, I don’t see how we can ignore that problem,” Mayor Bates said at last night’s Council meeting. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Linda Maio, who had moved the $30 million bond, said councilmembers should remember that Alameda County’s Measure B — for street improvements — was going to be on the ballot. She questioned whether voters would support two different revenue measures for streets.

“Keeping [the bond measures] as limited as we can is the most effective,” Worthington said.

“Not in my book,” shot back Bates.

“If this is going to work, I think we need a unanimous council,” said Gordon Wozniak, joining the meeting by phone from New York, where his daughter was married yesterday. “I’m concerned about telling the voters we’re going to make things a little bit better. It would be really nice if we could say we’re putting enough on the bond that we’re really making the streets better.”

“The streets are so bad, I don’t see how we can ignore that problem,” Bates said. “It’s absolutely pathetic to go back to the voters and say we didn’t bother to fix it. If you guys want to do it without me, that’s fine.”

Councilmembers agreed to hold any decision on watershed and street measures to the July 10 council meeting. City staff have been instructed to bring back the $30 million watershed and streets bond and a proposal for a new, streets-only bond.

Bates pointed out that there are likely to be 10 city measures on the ballot, and he didn’t think an 11th for streets would make a difference for voters. “People will pick and choose,” he said. “Nobody is a sage and can say if you do two they’ll both go down.”

The 10 measures on the ballot will be the two pools measures, the likely watershed bond, the West Berkeley plan, redistricting, the sunshine ordinance, a utility users tax, a GANN override (which renews already approved spending), the FACTS initiative on unfunded liabilities, and the sit-lie ordinance. A streets measure would bring the total to 11.

Other City business

An armored vehicle of the type being considered by three police departments, including Berkeley

The City Council unanimously approved Kriss Worthington’s request for information about the proposed city purchase of an armored vehicle for Berkeley Police Department, together with the UC Police Department and the Albany Police Department.

“With the wars winding down, this is a new way to keep the weapons producers rich and fat and happy,” Maio said. “I’m really sorry we got involved in this. It’s a big misstep. It’s inconsistent with our culture and our values.”

“I know that having weapons means potentially using weapons,” said Max Anderson. “Certainly we want police officers to be protected when they carry out their duties, but a weapon like this is designed to overwhelm civilian populations.”

Jesse Arreguín said the problem was a lack of information to both the council and the public about the purchase, which is partly funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). He suggested that the council develop a policy for use of the vehicle.

Consolidation of commissions was also considered by the council last night. Discussion of all of the proposed consolidations were deferred until December, but the idea of combining waterfront, parks & rec and early childhood development into two commissions was taken up and passed. The proposal now goes back to city staff to draw up the details, which will be debated by the council later this year for possible implementation no earlier than late 2013.

Funds of $64,733 were found to be available in the budget for one-time grants to local organizations. Mayor Bates proposed $29,484 to Berkeley Youth Alternatives, $9,828 to Japanese American Services of the East Bay, $4,990 to Bay Area Community Land Trust and $20,431 to Life Long Medical Acupuncture Clinic.

“To package them together in one page is quite an effort,” Worthington said. “Thank you very much for pulling it all together in a short, sweet, intelligent proposal.”

A proposal from the Fair Campaign Practices Commission to require disclosure of loans and contributions on campaign communications for ballot measures passed the council, but arguments by Worthington and Arreguín to make the measure effective for the November, 2012 election failed.

Approval of the fiscal year 2013 biennial budget update passed without comment. The proposed City expenditure budget for all funds in FY 2013 is $364,920,134 (gross appropriations) and $313,563,163 (net appropriations). The General Fund total is $149,377,267. A $1.8 million projected deficit in the General Fund is being covered by having the Workers Compensation Fund cover a $1.6 million loan to the Refuse Fund rather than the General Fund, and a one-time use from the General Fund Reserve for the balance.

The council also decided to stay in Old City Hall — formally the Maudelle Shirek Building — for its meetings when the Berkeley Unified School District moves to West Campus. Up to $350,000 in capital improvements will be needed, although there will not be a complete seismic upgrade of the building as some have recommended.

Finally, a proposed street name change from Harold Way to Dharma Way was sent back by the council to the Public Works Commission. Berkeley Historical Society’s Steve Finacom described the staff report recommending the name change “an amazing piece of non-reasoning.”

Related:
City, citizens debate substandard streets, a closed pool [05.31.12]
Comment: Save our pools, invest in people, close the opportunity gap [05.29.12]
Community rallies to get pool measure on November ballot [04.30.12]
More than $100m needed for parks, rec and waterfront [09.29.11]
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]
Pools majority falls short: closures expected [06.09.10]

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  • The Sharkey

    Just say “NO.” to the Warm Pool boondoggle.

    I’ll gladly vote for a measure to reopen and maintain Willard Pool but, when our already-existing infrastructure is crumbling around us, this is not the time to be building fancy new City facilities.

  • EricPanzer

    Anywhere but Berkeley I’m a radical-pinko-commie-bleeding-heart liberal. But by saying what I’m about to say, I’ll likely be locally regarded as no better than a third Koch brother. $20 million for pools when most of it will being going to a warm-water pool seems like an unjustifiable expenditure in light of Berkeley’s other needs. For the incredibly narrow demographic who couldn’t use YMCA facilities, there simply must be a less exorbitant option. Goodness knows who I’m putting myself in opposition to/alignment with by taking this position, but unless someone can show me some new and compelling reason this is the best way we can spend another $20 million right now, I’ll probably vote against it.

  • The Sharkey

    For the very few who can’t make use of the YMCA facilities, it seems like it would be more cost-efficient for the city to pay a private bus company to drive them to a more adequate facility somewhere else.

  • EricPanzer

    The Alice Waters/Che Guevara People’s Resort could accommodate them. If they overheat in the warm-water pool, they can just go chill out on the ice rink.

  • Tim C.

    notice that when the guys dig up the street to replace the pipes, the asphalt paving looks like a kid in a sandbox could have done better.  Who signs off on THAT work?   

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    City Council = Whoever shows up decides our policy even if we know it’s bad policy.

  • EBGuy

    A parcel tax for over half a million dollars to operate and maintain the NEW Warmwater Pool and NEW Willard Pool.  This is how it works:  1. Shut ‘em down 2. Put parcel tax on ballot.  3. We’ve saved over $600k in General Fund expenditures. 4. Give someone a raise.

  • Tomales Bay

    didn’t we just vote down a ballot initiative just like this one in the last election.  The council is using the passionate few warm pool people to help them pass their other measures.  Really pathetic.  In the end it is a question of priorities, and the council is selling out to a small group that hounds them relentlessly, rather than looking at what is best for the majority.  Sick town.

  • Downtowner

    This is making me crazy : Berkeleyside , please stop referring to the Civil Sidewalks proposed ballot initiative as the “Sit Lie Ordinance “. The city already has a lying ordinance on the books -at least call it the “sitting ordinance”.

  • Vladislav_Davidzon

    This whole thing is ridiculous.  With the employee benefits eating up the majority of the budget, the city should follow the example being set by Stockton;  file for bankruptcy, erase the liabilities it can no longer afford, and run a much more efficient budget going forward without the unions corrupting the political process. 

    The days of city employees writing contracts with crazy benefits for themselves are long gone.  We can and must do better.  These sorts of measures are nutty in this economy. 

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Some might go so far as to call it “dirty pool,” especially on seeing the photo accompanying this article.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    This is a really important point: is the site adopting an editorial position on the measure?

  • The Sharkey

     $52k wasted bringing initiatives to the ballot that Berkeley voters have already rejected.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Plus the time and expense that went into drafting three different plans for warm pools at the West campus facility in the packet for tonight’s school board meeting.

  • Anonymous

    Will the esteemed councilman Worthington repeat this same phrase to our former City Manager, lately retired, Phil Kamlarz:

    “You can’t be greedy and go for the big dollar amounts,”

    If he collects on the quarter million dollar per year pension he is now owed for, say, 25 years, that would consume at least $6,000,000.

    That sum alone could probably either resurface about 15 miles of roads in Berkeley or repave about 6 miles from scratch without a tax hike of any kind…

  • gimpylee

    I see Berkeley becoming the next city of Bell,  Stockton or Vallejo soon enough.

  • Chris

     Agreed – I assumed it was related to EBMUD/PG&E. I’m curious how much the city has a say in these matters.

    They certainly trashed the asphalt on cedar a few years ago replacing pipes…

  • berkopinionator

    Please take the dirt out of Willard Pool, fix the cracks and fill it with water!  Please let the kids at Willard Middle School swim at their pool as the generations before did..

  • berkopinionator

     Berkeley Public Works, you can call them and speak to the inspector.

  • http://twitter.com/LisaLamagna Lisa LaMagna

    Berkeley might learn from Albany’s problems with their pool expenses, as the pool operates at a loss of $170,000 annually. 
    http://albany.patch.com/articles/albany-aquatic-center-projected-to-run-at-170-000-deficit-in-2012-13

  • EBGuy

     Don’t worry, the two “new” pools are guaranteed to operate at a “taxpayer approved” $600k loss per year.  

  • http://twitter.com/berkeleybecca Rebecca Freed

    Thanks so much for this report, Lance.  I’m really glad to know what happened at the Council meeting on Tuesday night.

  • Guest

    Possibly I’m naive, but based on a layperson’s cost-benefit analysis, I think that the Council’s order of operations here should be (1) structural deficits and bloating staff and pension costs, (2) fixing potholes and preventing failed streets, then (3) general-use pools, and finally (4) the warm-water pool. Effectively addressing #1 might help negate the need for a bond measure to address the other items.

    As for a new warm-water pool, I don’t want to be cynical and discount the positive impact it could have on the elderly and disabled. Echoing Justice Ginsburg’s concurring opinion yesterday on health care, someday we all might need a warm water pool (even witty, quick-fingered Berkeleyside commenters) … and we can’t determine when or to what extent. But the lobbying over this issue in the last 20+ years (yes, it really has gone on that long), and the repeated haranguing of the Council and voters, has gotten ridiculous. I wonder … what if warm-water pool supporters could channel the money and time spent fighting, filing lawsuits, pursuing ballot measures, etc., into founding and funding a non-profit warm-water pool? Isn’t that how the YMCA and the warm pool in Palo Alto are run? Imagine the impact of an evening spent calling prospective donors, rather than an evening shouting at Old City Hall. Just a thought. 

  • Bill N

    I don’t believe this has a chance to pass this year and the council knows it too.  This was a political bone thrown to the “warm water pool constituency.”

  • TN

    What proportion of the people who needed and used the warm pool were Berkeley residents? I can’t recall reading a clear answer to this question.

    If the answer is that the warm pool users come from many cities, may be a regional, multi-city approach is warranted. Berkeley does participate in multi-jurisdictional projects such as the well used soccer fields.

    If the costs were shared by all the cities in which the users live, the burden would not fall on Berkeley taxpayers alone.