Public Comment

Commentary: Berkeley City Council Should Not Support a YMCA Contract

By H. Scott Prosterman
Tuesday July 24, 2007

For the past two years, I have expressed strong objections about the contractual relationship between the City of Berkeley (City of Berkeley) and the Berkeley YMCA. This has occurred in numerous e-mails and phone messages to Mayor Tom Bates, City Manager Phil Kamlarz and my council district representative, Linda Maio. Despite my creating a lengthy paper trail of objections to this contract, and aggressively following up to request involvement, the mayor, city manager and Ms. Maio chose not to inform me that the matter was up for discussion and renewal last June 30. I felt that was a deliberate effort to prevent my objections from being heard in a City Council meeting. Throughout the year since that time, I re-stated my objections in writing and phone calls to Bates, Kamlarz, Maio and the city clerk’s office. None of them informed me that this issue was scheduled for the agenda last week. In recent weeks, I specifically asked a Bates assistant, named Arianna, to inform me when the item was going to be discussed this year. She rudely told me that was not in her job description, and that finding out what was on the council agenda was my “problem” (as she phrased it). 

On July 10 at 4:30 p.m. I received a call from the office of Councilmember Kriss Worthington, informing me that the City Council was scheduled to discuss and approve its contract with the Berkeley YMCA that evening at 7 p.m. ( So, much for a quiet evening at home watching the “Midsummer Classic”—rather than enjoying the planned decompression, I got more stress.) I dropped everything to prepare the following address to the Berkeley City Council. The late notice and parking difficulties caused me to walk into the council chambers at 7:05, according to the digital clock. But because the entire consent agenda was read and approved in the unprecedented time span of five minutes, at Mayor Bates direction, I was prevented from making this statement for the second straight year. 


To The Berkeley City Council: 

There are many urgent and compelling reasons to reserve or deny approval for the City of Berkeley’s contract with the Berkeley YMCA. 

On the face of it, it sounds great for the City of Berkeley or any corporate or government employer to subsidize health club memberships for its employees. But the Berkeley YMCA, while serving as the de facto health club and community for the City of Berkeley, engages in practices that are not permitted by any other city contractor. I argue that the council should withhold approval for any contract with the Y until the following issues are fully investigated and resolved:  

1) Inasmuch as the Berkeley City Council is a very pro-labor and pro-union organization, it should concern you that the Berkeley Y is active and aggressively engaged in union busting. At least two employees, Ms. May Cotton and Mr. Krassimir Stoykov were fired or forced out because they were suspected of trying to organize a union. In fact, they were not. 

2) The Berkeley Y is an exclusionary organization, run by a very secretive executive committee, which is accountable to no one. They don’t even follow their own by-laws in important policy and administrative matters.  

3) When I held membership at the Y, I made at least three written complaints about being sexually harassed in the men’s locker room. The Y avoided dealing with this issue because it did not want to risk being depicted as anti-gay. Yet, this fails to make a distinction between a positive and a very negative gay agenda. For resisting sexual advances in the men’s locker room, I was depicted by Y directors as anti-gay. This is untrue and unfair. More to the point, the Berkeley Y failed to honor its obligation to protect me from unwanted sexual advances in the shower and locker room. I recognize that I’m not a sympathetic character, but you should consider that childcare workers at the Y have been instructed not to allow young boys into the men’s locker room for this very reason! 

4) I hold professional certifications in pool management and fundraising. The Y directors freely solicited my expertise in both areas, but chose to avoid implementing my recommendations. Because I made formal complaints about the level of hygiene in the pools and locker room, and about the sexual activity in the locker room, my membership was revoked. There was no due process involved, contrary to the Y by-laws. 

5) The City of Berkeley maintains a visible conflict of interest with the Y. The Department of Environmental Health and the City of Berkeley itself have been awarded the Y’s “Champion Corporate Partner” designation in the past few years. Sr. Dir. Manual Ramirez candidly admitted to me in his office that the “inspection” that resulted from my complaint was woefully short of thorough. He also said that his department should not be accepting awards from facilities that it is regulating.  

These issues aside, the City of Berkeley’s own pool system desperately needs the money that is given to this private, unaccountable and exclusionary organization. As a swimmer at the city pools, I’m well aware of the urgent need for funding to address repair and ultimately renovation needs.  

The City of Berkeley should terminate it inappropriate contract with the Berkeley Y and designate that money for emergency needs for all three city pools.  


Thank you, 

H. Scott Prosterman