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Swimmers Irate after City Decides

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday December 07, 2007

A group of local swimmers are irked by the City of Berkeley’s hastily announced closure of the King Swim Center, the last working pool in the city. 

A handwritten notice informed patrons arriving for their daily laps Monday that the pool will be closed for maintenance for three weeks, beginning Dec. 17, but a subsequent e-mail from Scott Ferris, the city’s youth and recreation services manager, informed users that the pool closure dates had been changed to facilitate the contractor’s timeline. 

According to his letter, the King pool will be closed from Dec. 25 through Jan. 13 but will open for its traditional New Year’s swim Jan. 1. 

Maintenance work includes replacement of 160 feet of benches on the north side of pool, a four-day chlorine shock to clean mold and bacteria off the main and dive pool, repainting the locker room floors and doors, and recalibrating the pool’s chemical automation system. 

Some King pool users protested the closure through letters and e-mails to Ferris and Mayor Tom Bates. 

“I am a longtime Berkeley resident who supports the pools with a $64 prepaid swim card, good for 30 days,” wrote Karen Davis. 

“I purchased this card a day before the handwritten POOL CLOSED DEC 17 notice was posted on the door of King Pool. My question is this: How can you possibly justify charging residents a monthly fee for pool use during a 30-day timespan in which the facility is open for ONE WEEK? You may say that this is an ‘unforseen-circumstance-related closure’—but to those of us paying $64 for a month of ‘use’ which consists of only seven days of pool use ... we call that a RIP-OFF, plain as day.” 

Davis demanded to know whether refunds would be issued. 

Calls to Ferris and the Deputy City Manager’s office for comment were not returned. 

“It shows you that the city disrespects its own employees,” pool regular Iain Boal told the Planet. “It did not even bother informing its own employees, one of whom sold Karen the monthly ticket.” 

Boal, along with a group of swimmers, have asked the city to reconsider the closure or to keep one of the three pools open for use. 

“We want somewhere to swim,” he said. “At least one place where we can swim all year in Berkeley. Preferably we want all three public pools open at the same time. There should be some kind of a public discussion about a public amenity.” 

According to Boal, hundreds of pool patrons signed a petition to protest closure, but the city removed the petition from the site Wednesday. 

“The Parks Recreation and Waterfront Department posted a notice saying public postings must be cleared from the main office,” he said. “It has now become a free speech issue.” 

The Willard and West Campus pools are currently closed for maintenance. All three pools are approximately 60 years old and suffer from pipe leaks, decaying concrete and faulty pumps.  

Berkeley residents approved a $200,000 bond measure to repair the pools at the last election, and the city is currently investigating costs for additional upgrades. 

At a recent disability commission meeting to discuss plans for the relocation of the Berkeley High warm water pool to Milvia Street, Pools for Berkeley had discussed the idea of a multi-pool complex. 

Deputy City Manager Lisa Caronna told the Planet in an earlier interview that the City Council had never formally discussed the idea of a multi-pool complex or directed city staff to preview needs, feasibility and sites. 

“The swimming public has worked hard for the promise to keep one pool open all year,” said Summer Brenner, another pool user. “We believed there was a commitment from the city to uphold that promise ... The issue of pools for all people and a long-term vision of an Aquatic Center is currently under discussion. However, I think it’s important to keep the short-term issues alive and well. The health and well-being of many people depend on daily access to public pools.” 

The King swimming facility is used by senior aerobic classes, lap swimmers, youth teams and a Masters class. 

For more information contact Rosemary Fonseca at 981-5152 or email at