King Swim Center Users Unhappy With Compromise

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday December 18, 2007

King Swim Center regulars now have the option of doing laps at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA while their pool gets a facelift over winter. 

Protests against the City of Berkeley’s hastily announced closure of the King pool, the last working pool in the city, forced Mayor Tom Bates’ office to negotiate a temporary agreement with the YMCA last week to allow King swimmers free access to any of the YMCA’s pools from Dec. 26 to Jan. 11. 

However, complaints did not subside. 

“It’s the chlorine,” said King pool user Iain Boal. “I get a strong allergic reaction when swimming indoors, perhaps from the chlorinated atmosphere … Many of us open-air public pool swimmers are also members of the private YMCA. For various reasons the indoor pool is a poor substitute, and for myself, no substitute at all. A basement pool is no match for the healthful pleasure of open air swimming. It is like closing Yosemite and offering the Emeryville climbing wall as a substitute.” 

Other users were livid that the city had sold $64 30-day passes up to the day before the hand-written announcement of the closure was posted near the King pool. 

In an e-mail to the city’s swimming community Thursday, Bates apologized for the inconvenience. 

“Closure for maintenance and repair at any time of the year will have an unavoidable impact,” his letter said. “Based on pool usage data, staff believes that closure during this time frame will cause the least amount of disruption in overall programming. It is unfortunate that staff was not able to offer the YMCA as an alternative while posting the original notice, however, we believe that the new arrangement successfully addresses the concern.” 

Topping the list of repairs is a four-day chlorine shock to clean mold and bacteria off the main and dive pool, locker room upgrades and recalibrating the pool’s chemical automation system. 

Although users said they welcome the work, they want the city to reconsider the closure or to keep one of the city’s three public pools open for use while the work is done. 

“I think many people do go away on vacation, so it is true that this would be the least disruptive time to close down,” said pool user Gael Alcock in an e-mail to the Planet. “I would have liked them to do the maintenance while the other pools are open.” 

The Willard and West Campus pools are currently closed for maintenance, funded by a $200,000 bond measure approved by Berkeley residents in 2006. Deputy City Manager Lisa Caronna told the Planet in October that the pools were almost 60 years old and suffered from pipe leaks, decaying concrete and faulty pumps. 

Access to the YMCA will be limited to swimmers carrying a Premium Monthly Pass, a Premium Ten Swim card or a Premium Senior, Youth and Disabled Monthly Pass. Lap swim will be available for adults only. 

In an e-mail to the City Council, Scott Ferris, the city’s recreation and youth services manager, said that the city’s monthly passes would be extended until Jan. 28. 

“Obviously the city management is scrambling to undo an arbitrary and sudden decision which was a breach of trust to the community,” Boal said. “It is especially galling given that the city offers its employees subsidized or free membership in the YMCA.” 

A lot of swimmers said that either the excessive chlorine or the expensive parking would prevent them from using the substitute pool. 

“Some of us will swim in the outdoor Temescal pool,” Alcock said. “It’s not too expensive—$3 for normal and $2 for senior swim.” 

Swimmers said they were still angry about the removal of a swimmers’ petition protesting the pool closure from the King facility and the appearance of a notice informing swimmers that “public postings must be cleared by the main office.” 

“Why is the mayor silent about this?” Boal asked. “This is a prima facie case of intimidation, and an unconstitutional infringement of our rights of free speech and assembly for the redress of grievances. It is also a pathetic comment on the state of public life in the home of Mario Savio—contempt for democratic process and fear of the slightest response from the community that they are employed to serve.”