On Tuesday evening, June 20, I went to the City Council meeting to offer my support for the Berkeley Warm Pool. I arrived at the old City Hall building at 6:30 and left after midnight, depressed after what I’d witnessed. The members of the council sat in a semi-circle, each leafing through stacks of paper as speakers took their two-minute turns at the microphone. I asked the guy next to me how come they weren’t paying attention. “It’s called “multi-tasking,” he said.
“Call me crazy,” I said, “but I like people looking at me when I talk to them.” It was not a productive night for the Warm Pool.
I’ve been using the Warm Pool for the past 20 years. For most of that time I was bed-ridden from a neck injury and unable to speak without intense pain. Recently medication has helped, but the pool enabled me to survive. Once there, I was able to move without pain for an hour and a half each day. It prevented me from physically deteriorating. Kept me mentally and emotionally alert. Made me feel alive.
I’m only one of hundreds. During this period, I’ve gotten to know men and women who have experienced relief from strokes, lupus, cancer, cerebral palsy, arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, hip and back injuries and polio.
The Warm Pool is the only indoor heated pool in the East Bay. Its clientele is varied and constantly expanding. There are classes for two-month old infants and up. Dori Maxon runs creative programs for disabled kids. There are Vista classes for disabled adults and the Berkeley Recreation Department has four classes of swimming for senior citizens and the disabled, along with classes for arthritis, Tai Chi, and water phobias.
I believe it is the most democratic community in our city. The aged, obese, sick, and disabled, who are often still discriminated against, are treated with compassion.
The pool is a source of emotional support. You can talk about your difficulties and people will pay attention.
It’s also a place to gain valuable information. Helpful medications, unique treatments, the names of innovative doctors are shared.
Given the obvious benefits of the Warm Pool, it is extremely frustrating that its very existence is in doubt. Despite the passage of Measure R, a $3.2 million bond to renovate the facility, the School District plans to destroy the building. It refuses to contribute any additional money toward a new pool, which will cost approximately $8 million.
The City Council has not shown much interest or initiative other than giving lip service to unworkable plans such as using the YMCA or remodeling the West Campus Pool, which is half the size of the Warm Pool. This despite the fact that Mayor Bates, speaking at the memorial of activist Fred Lupke promised to get a new pool built on his watch. At this point the council can’t even guarantee that a pool will be provided before the present one is destroyed.
This is shameful!
I urge the members of the Berkeley City Council to make the creation of a viable warm water pool a priority. Maybe they should stop by the Warm Pool. Get their feet wet. Experience for themselves why it is so essential. Hopefully a visit would jump-start their enthusiasm to deal with the funding problem, which is the only real problem. Supposedly all of them support the idea of a pool, but they’re afraid it can’t be done because there’s not sufficient money. The members of the Pool Committee along with Councilpersons Worthington and Spring believe it’s a question of will, effort. The Richmond Plunge was saved despite financial obstacles. There are a number of fund raising possibilities that should be explored. Councilwoman Spring has several ideas. And Councilman Worthington has suggested the possibility of Certificate of Participation which was used to support the Berkeley Rep.
For the Council to fail to find a solution would be a betrayal of the hundreds who presently depend on the Berkeley Warm Pool, as well as the thousands who voted for Measure R’s $3.2 million bond.
Sometime after midnight, as I hurried home in my manual wheelchair, sliding effortlessly up one sidewalk ramp and down the next, I remembered how different things were forty years ago when I first moved to Berkeley. I was healthier then and less observant but I don’t believe there was much wheelchair accessibility. The city complied only after a group of dedicated activists put their bodies on the line. Silently I thanked these nameless heroes.
As I tooled through the empty darkened streets I wondered if the same thing would have to happen for the Warm Pool to become as accepted a part of Berkeley as sidewalk ramps.
Daniel Rudman is a Berkeley resident.