Dozens of supporters of Willard Pool turned out Wednesday night to ask the Parks and Waterfront Commission to take steps to raise money to reopen the facility, which was closed due to budget and maintenance issues in 2010.
The meeting was the third in a series of public meetings held by the commission to try to get a sense of community priorities related to parks and recreation needs in Berkeley. The commission will now take the feedback from the meetings and make a decision about how to proceed with fundraising in the wake of a $40 million backlog of unfunded projects, and a department that has 30 fewer staff positions that it did about a decade ago.
Two public campaigns since 2010 aimed to raise money for city pools narrowly failed; the measures would have required a two-thirds majority to pass, and both came quite close to doing so. Organizers from the campaigns said they’ve learned from the past and are ready to try again.
Said George Beier, head of the Willard Neighborhood Association, “We were very close the last time. Support is very strong, very deep. I think we can really make it happen this time if we all come together.”
Wednesday night, it was a standing-room-only crowd in the South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library. Most in attendance held up signs in support of Willard.
Community members described the closed facility as an equity issue that the city needs to fix. They pointed out that neighborhoods in North and West Berkeley have access to swimming facilities, while families in South Berkeley do not. Many speakers pointed out that South Berkeley has fewer parks and recreation facilities than other areas of town, and said that re-opening Willard Pool would be a step toward addressing that.
“South Berkeley is shorted, you’ve heard it here,” Cris Barrere told the commission. “And I think, speaking as not much of a swimmer, having it in the community is just needed to restore equity. I’m unlikely to support bond measures that don’t support equity in our community.”
Some speakers, including representatives from Willard Middle School, spoke about how participation in swimming is linked to academic success, school engagement and a healthy lifestyle.
Though the vast majority of speakers — nearly 30 local residents — addressed the Willard Pool issue, a handful of others were there to advocate for the completion of the Santa Fe right-of-way in South Berkeley as a “garden greenway,” as well as funding for parklets in several areas around town.
They pointed out that, regionally, a greenway exists north to Richmond, but that Berkeley has failed to improve land it’s owned since 1977 along Santa Fe Avenue from Russell Street to Addison Street.
In his closing remarks, Commissioner Jim McGrath reminded those in attendance that organizers may need to have a broad focus if a new parks bond measure or parcel tax — or some combination of the two — is to work.
“Willard Pool is not the only underserved community, is not the only problem,” he said. “We need to build a political organizing effort if we are going to restore facilities; you need to trust that someone is watching the store fiscally. We take that seriously.”
He said, over the next three or four months, that the commission would be “friend-raising not fundraising, and creating a political movement.” He said the city plans to conduct polls to measure support for a new campaign, and added that community feedback the commission has collected will help make sure that the “polling is insightful and will provide more insights.”
The Parks and Waterfront Commission will next meet to discuss the issue Nov. 13 at San Pablo Park at 7 p.m. Community members may submit written comments by Oct. 30 to Roger Miller, secretary, Parks and Waterfront Commission, 2180 Milvia St., Berkeley, CA 94704, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the city’s system of parks and facilities is available online.
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