Op-ed: Berkeley’s ancient ruins — A photo essay

On July 1, 2014, the recently retired Director of Public Works, Andrew Clough, gave a somber presentation to City Council on the condition of facilities in Berkeley.

The information report accompanying his presentation stated the following:

“During the past 25 years, the City has deferred maintenance on many City buildings, decreasing the value of the assets and diminishing the utility of the buildings for City programs.”

The report went on to state (in bold):

 “To reiterate: at the current funding levels maintenance, renovations and/or improvements will continue to be planned and implemented, however deferred maintenance (backlog repairs) will continue to grow, and existing facilities will continue to deteriorate at an increasing rate.”

Berkeley’s buildings have been ignored for too long. We have over $500 million in unfunded repair needs with no comprehensive plan to fix them (1).

What historically was the source of our civic pride – our buildings, recreation centers, and our community centers – is threatened by “demolition by neglect”.

Many residents might assume that the ten structures photographed below will be rehabilitated. The problem is there is virtually no funding allocated to repair, much less restore, these structures in the Capital Improvement Budget over the next 5 years.

Fixing the structures photographed below would cost at least $70 million not including the seismic upgrades for some of our emergency shelters; the rebuilding, if ever, of the pools; and the repair of the Berkeley City Pier for which there is no estimate (yet).

Despite the need to reinvest in our City’s community facilities, some of which were built by our forbearers almost 100 years ago, the amount of money allocated to infrastructure spending is grossly inadequate.

Spending for infrastructure in Berkeley will decrease 43% over the next 5 years – from $36 million in FY2016 to $20 million in FY2020 (2). This is out of a total City budget in FY2016 of $330 million (3). The largest single expenditure in the City is the compensation of existing employees ($245 million in FY2016).

Can we not dedicate more than the roughly 10% of our overall City’s budget to make our City’s buildings look beautiful again? Is this what we want as our legacy?

Ten public spaces were chosen as examples for this photo essay to illustrate the spectrum of deteriorating structures in Berkeley. The community centers and King Pool fall under the category of “high-use buildings that have outdated systems and are in a state of disrepair and degraded appearance” per the Public Works Department. High-use refers to the fact that thousands of Berkeley residents use these facilities each year.

Some facilities in the photo essay are no longer available to residents for their original purpose or have been demolished such as Willard Pool, the Warm Water Pool, and the John Hinkel Park clubhouse; some are in very dire straights such as the City Pier and Old City Hall; and the rest have seismic and/or repair issues that will cost a lot of money to fix.

Both the Rose Garden (in FY2019) and James Kenney Community Center (in FY2017) will be repaired. The repair of Kenney will include a seismic upgrade. Additional work by the Parks and Recreation Department over the next five years can be found on the city’s website.

The purpose of this photo essay was to spark a conversation about the problem of our citywide facilities and what we wish to do about it as a community. Ideas are welcome.

Old City Hall. Photo by Melati Citrawireja
Old City Hall. Photo : Melati Citrawireja

Old City Hall (built in 1909, National Register of Historic Places, a Berkeley Landmark) 

  • District 4
  • Cost of renovation: $40 to $50 million
  • Open but permanent closure is a distinct possibility. Considered a serious seismic hazard
  • No plans or funds to fix it in the FY2016-FY2020 capital improvement budget
  • Council will likely vacate the building in the near future due to the seismic issue. The school district moved out several years ago.
  • In 2012, Jesse Arreguin told the SF Chronicle, “”The City Council has been meeting there for more than 100 years. It’s a part of our history. It was built by the taxpayers for public use, and we should do what we can to preserve that.”
  • More recently, Linda Maio said with regard to Old City Hall, “It is irresponsible of us to continue to deal with the status quo and not do anything.”
Willard pool
Willard pool

Willard Pool (built in 1963)

  • District 7
  • Cost of renovation: $4.7 million
  • Surprise closure (filled with dirt) over the winter holiday in 2010 due to cost and safety issues. No notification given to residents before closure.
  • No plans or funds to fix it in the FY 2016-FY2020 capital improvement budget
  • The showers are open for the homeless several hours a day and City employees with red lifeguard shirts work in the office 7 days a week
  • The “pool” is now a semi-maintained garden tended by Willard Middle School students
  • “Filling the pool with soil does not preclude its future repair and renovation” said Phil Kamlarz, previous Berkeley City Manager, in 2010. 
Clubhouse in John Hinkel Park
Clubhouse in John Hinkel Park

Clubhouse in John Hinkel Park (built in 1919, a Berkeley landmark)

  • District 5
  • Closed permanently in January 2015 due to a fire
  • According to Berkeleyside, Councilman Capitelli said that nine years ago, necessary repairs to the building, including foundation work, retaining wall and dealing with extensive rot, were estimated at $1-2 million (and nothing was apparently done).
  • “It’s been an attractive nuisance for 10 years,” Mr. Capitelli told Berkeleyside. “Now I’m afraid it’s a high risk attractive nuisance”
  • In a recent email with his office, “Shortly after (the fire), the City conducted an RFP process for emergency demolition and recovery services of the clubhouse.  Since then the City has been in the midst of a design process to potentially construct a new structure that would house a picnic area. The City is still working on items related to insurance, funding of a new structure, getting electricity restored to the park and more”
  • From the communication above, it appears that the Clubhouse will never be rebuilt but rather replaced by a picnic area.
  • Apart from the cost of demolition of the Clubhouse after the fire, there are no funds in the FY2016-FY2020 capital improvement budget to design or build a picnic area. Hopefully, the insurance will kick-start the design process.
Berkeley Municipal Pier
Berkeley Municipal Pier

 Berkeley Municipal Pier (built in 1929, a Berkeley landmark)

  • District 1
  • Cost of renovation: unknown
  • Surprise closure in July 2015 due to “considerable structural damage”
  • No plans or funds to fix it in the FY2016-FY2020 capital improvement budget
  • “We are waiting for a full analysis of the structural integrity and what it would take to repair it. This is taking many months since this is a challenging structure. I want to see it restored – it is a rare place” (email from Linda Maio)
  • Abdul Qasemi recently said his business at the Berkeley Marina Bait and Tackle shop is still down 50% since the closure of the pier in July (as originally reported by Berkeleyside)
Berkeley High warm water pool. Photo: Mark Hendrix
Warm water pool at Berkeley High School. Photo: Mark Hendrix

Warm Water Pool (built 1922, demolished 2012, was a Berkeley landmark)

  • District 4
  • No plans or funds to rebuild the warm water pool which was used often by the disabled and seniors in the community
  • Closed due to cost and seismic issues in 2011
    • City spokeswoman Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said to SF Gate in 2011, “We’ve had to make some very difficult decisions. We know this is an emotional issue for everyone.”
King Pool
King Pool

King Pool (built in 1979)

  • District 5
  • Cost of renovation: $2.25 million dollars
  • Needed repairs: locker room, piping, and sprinkler system
  • No plans or funds to fix it in the FY2016-FY2020 capital improvement budget
Frances Albrier Community Center
Frances M. Albrier Community Center

Frances M. Albrier Community Center – (built in 1970, An Emergency Shelter)

  • District 2
  • Cost of renovation: $914,074
    Needed repairs: floors; walls; windows; roof coverings; plumbing; heat & distribution; sprinklers; electrical; lighting; communication & security; front office; kiln room; and kitchen.
  • $50,000 will be spent in FY2016 for an electrical meter for the park; however, no additional funding through FY2020
  • Needs seismic retrofit (cost not available). Where will residents go if there is an earthquake and this structure is compromised?
  • According to Public Works, “There are about 20 other facilities (besides VA and Old City Hall) important in an emergency response effort that have not yet been fully evaluated, and are estimated to require $15 – $40 million of work.” 
North Berkeley Senior Center
North Berkeley Senior Center

North Berkeley Senior Center – (built in 1964, An Emergency Shelter) 

  • District 6
  • Cost of renovation: $1,586,133
    Needed repairs: extensive electrical and lighting upgrades
    “Tentative” plans in FY2020 to do the electrical and lighting; however, it may be “re-prioritized based on newly identified deficiencies or user department needs ” per a Public Works presentation on 3/24/15 to Council
  • ~ $55,000 is budgeted for minor maintenance through FY2018
  • Needs seismic retrofit (cost not available). Where will residents go if there is an earthquake and this structure is compromised?
  • According to Public Works, “There are about 20 other facilities (besides VA and Old City Hall) important in an emergency response effort that have not yet been fully evaluated, and are estimated to require $15 – $40 million of work.”
Bates wants the city council to adopt a zoning overlay to protect historic buildings in the civic center area, like Veterans' Memorial Hall. He admits he hopes the push will undermine support for a Downtown Green Initiative scheduled for November ballot. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Veterans’ Memorial Hall. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Veteran’s Administration Building (built in 1928, National Register of Historic Places, a Berkeley Landmark)

  • District 4
  • Cost of renovation: $20 million
  • Open but considered a seismic hazard
  • Serves as a men’s shelter and Options Recovery Services
  • No plans or funds to fix it in the FY2016-FY2020 capital improvement budget
Grove (MLK Youth Services) Community Center
Grove (MLK Youth Services) Community Center

Grove (MLK Youth Services) Community Center – (built in 1950, An Emergency Shelter)

  • District 3
  • Cost of renovation: $959,918
  • Needed repairs: doors, floors, walls, windows, roof coverings, plumbing, heat & distribution, sprinklers, electrical, lighting, communication & security
  • In FY2018, the game room will be renovated at a cost of $395,000. No additional funding through FY2020
  • Needs seismic retrofit (cost not available). Where will residents go if there is an earthquake and this structure is compromised?
  • According to Public Works, “There are about 20 other facilities (besides VA and Old City Hall) important in an emergency response effort that have not yet been fully evaluated, and are estimated to require $15 – $40 million of work.”

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Isabelle Gaston is a medical writing consultant specializing in oncology regulatory submissions to the FDA and president of NEBA, the North East Berkeley Association, a community organization for residents of electoral districts 5 and 6.