Warm-water pool users cheered as the Berkeley City Council, its chambers packed wheelchair to walker, voted 6-3 to place a referendum before the voters asking for approval of a $4.5 million bond to complete funding for a new warm pool.
The elation, however, was short lived.
The pool, located at Berkeley High, is used especially by disabled and elderly people.
Although he had voted in favor of the measure, Mayor Tom Bates, responding to the city manager’s insistence that his staff would be unable to prepare the referendum before the council recess at the end of the month, called for revisiting the issue at next week’s meeting.
“It’s grasping defeat from the jaws of victory,” quipped Councilmember Kriss Worthington, during a break in the meeting.
Opposing the placement of the measure on the November ballot were Councilmembers Linda Maio, Laurie Capitelli, and Gordon Wozniak.
The aging pool is to be demolished within the next two years, according to the school district plan to rebuild the sports facility where the pool is located.
As part of the South Campus Plan, the district has offered to allow the city to construct a new warm pool east of Milvia Street.
The offer, however, will not be finalized until the district completes an environmental impact report that will include a number of projects in the vicinity of the warm pool, according to Lew Jones, Berkeley Unified School District facilities director.
In 2000, before the decision to demolish the pool, voters approved a $3.2 million bond measure to rehab the pool and the building that houses it.
Plans to demolish the pool have stalled the project, to which the City Council has added $1 million. New funding of $4.5 million is needed to build a new facility.
Kept at 92 degrees with access facilitated by a chair lift, the pool is a lifeline, pool users told the council.
“I stand before you tonight as a result of the warm pool,” said Ann Marx, who credited use of the warm pool for her recovery from a recent injury.
“One day, anyone in this room may need to come to the warm pool,” she said.
Rolling up to the microphone in his electric wheelchair, pool-user Daniel Rudman told the council that disabled people from toddlers to 88-year-olds use the pool. “It gives them back their lives,” he said.
“Imagine you couldn’t do any exercise until you got into the warm water,” said Councilmember Dona Spring, urging the council to approve placing the bond before the voters.
Fearing the bond measure would not be ready for the ballot in time, the councilmembers took three other votes: to fund the pool with certificates of participation (COP), to hold a special election for the bond measure and to bring the issue back next week.
COPs are a funding mechanism that cities can use to borrow funds for capital projects. The loan is paid back out of the general fund; no citizen approval is mandated. Use of COPs to fund the pool went down to defeat 4-4-1.
“It’s a question of priorities,” said City Manager Phil Kamlarz, who estimated that the cost to the city for COPs would be around $300,000 annually. “Something else gets knocked out.”
Bates and Councilmembers Darryl Moore, Max Anderson and Betty Olds voted to oppose the use of COPs; Wozniak abstained.
Kamlarz suggested a third option: the city would hold a special election on the use of bond money for the pool. In an 8-0-1 vote, the council asked staff to look at that possibility and come back with an analysis. Spring abstained on the resolution.
Then the council voted 6-3 on Bates’ proposal to revisit the just approved bond measure next week, with Spring, Olds and Worthington in opposition.
The warm-pool users group will meet at the pool at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.