Council Delays Decision to Place Warm Pool on November Ballot

By Judith Scherr
Friday January 18, 2008

Rebuilding Berkeley’s therapeutic warm pool hit troubled waters Tuesday, when a City Council majority balked at expressing its intent to place a bond measure for the pool on the November ballot without first having details on operational costs. 

Several councilmembers indicated, as well, that they wanted to wait until all the possible bond measures—which could include taxes for sewers and storm drains and for police and fire—were before them to decide which to place on the ballot. 

“There are many needs in the city,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak. “We have trouble keeping the other pools open.” 

Wozniak pointed out that four years earlier proposed taxes went down to defeat because of the number of them on the ballot. “I haven’t heard what the competing things are,” he said. 

Councilmember Dona Spring said she was anxious to get council approval for the $15 million bond to go before the voters. “We really need to go forward putting this on the ballot; we need to start working on a campaign that will pass this measure,” she said, urging her council colleagues to vote their intent to put the measure on the ballot and at the same time allow the city manager until Feb. 12 to finalize cost estimates. 

In 2000, Berkeley voters passed a $3.25 million bond measure to refurbish the warm pool at Berkeley High. The pool is used primarily by disabled people and seniors. Subsequently, the school district decided to demolish the warm pool at its current location. After discussions with the city, the school board approved dedicated space in its Master Plan on a former tennis court east of Milvia Street for a new warm pool. 

The estimated $15 million project would cost taxpayers about $5.59 per $100,000 of assessed property value annually. 

City manager Phil Kamlarz told council that another wrinkle in the project is that the school district’s Surplus Site Committee first has to declare the site as surplus, which won’t happen for a number of months. 

But district spokesperson Mark Coplan, speaking to the Daily Planet on Wednesday, said that, while it’s true that the committee needs to formally surplus the site, the school master plan clearly states that a former tennis court east of Milvia is dedicated to the warm pool.  

He added that the school board has clearly recommended siting the warm pool there and that the board, not the committee, has the final word on the question.  

Wozniak added another concern: Operational costs cannot be estimated without a study of the demand for a warm pool, he said. “We have no idea where operating funds are going to come from,” he told the council, further pointing out that 40 percent of those who use the pool come from outside the city.  

“If there’s not a contribution from other cities, I’m going to be hard pressed to go to Berkeley voters saying ‘Gee, cough up $15 million and we’re going to be letting all these other people use it free,’” he said. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, however, said the responsible thing for the council to do is to express its intent to place the question before the voters, particularly because the voters already showed support for the pool in 2000 by authorizing funding for refurbishment.  

Seeing that only Worthington supported her recommendation to place the measure on the ballot, Spring withdrew her motion, saying that she was willing to wait until Feb. 12 when the city manager would have more detailed information. 

The council needs to be clear and demonstrate that they will support a warm pool, she said. “If they don’t, then don’t just string [the public] along any more,” she said. “People have to decide whether they want to go ahead with it or kill it.” 

In other city business, the council unanimously approved easing building code restrictions on retrofit work for soft story and brick buildings, placing the Patient’s Access to Medical Cannabis Act on the November ballot (the courts ordered it resubmitted to voters after 2004 problems in a recount, because the county did not retain some ballots), and approved enhanced controls over the city’s taxi script program for low-income seniors and disabled people.