Pools Won’t Be on Berkeley’s November Ballot

By Judith Scherr
Wednesday June 11, 2008 - 06:56:00 PM

A ballot measure to fund a new warm pool and rehab neighborhood pools was taken off the table at the Berkeley City Council’s Tuesday night meeting.  

More than 30 people showed up to support a pools bond. But having seen the results of recent surveys that showed voters unlikely to support the measure, most of them agreed in the end with the council decision. 

At the request of Councilmember Dona Spring, the council voted unanimously (with Councilmember Kriss Worthington absent) for the concept of placing an advisory measure before voters in November, calling on the Berkeley Unified School District not to demolish the warm pool now located on the Berkeley High School campus—the district has plans to replace it with new classrooms—until a replacement warm pool is built.  

The council vote included creation of a task force to negotiate with the school district on the pools questions. The three outdoor pools and the indoor warm pool are located on school district property, but maintained and operated by the city. 

The council will formally vote on the advisory measure and task force when staff brings back specific language at a future meeting. 

“If we went for the bond and it didn’t pass, then they would have an excuse to wash their hands of us,” JoAnn Cook, One Warm Pool chair told the Planet after the vote. She said the council vote to have the advisory measure on the ballot was “a whole lot better then it could have been. They could have said, ‘forget you,’” she said. 

The council did not make a decision Tuesday whether it will ask citizens in November to pay for increased fire and emergency protection and for library branch rehabilitation. 

The plan as outlined in the council discussion depends on the school district’s becoming a partner in the project, something which BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan said the school district is likely to reject. 

Mayor Tom Bates, who will head the task force, took the lead in the decision to take the question of bond funding for the pools off the table. Bates told the council he thinks the city can work with the district to get the funds for the project, estimated to cost $22 million.  

The schools lack adequate funding to build the project they’ve designed at Berkeley High, Bates told the council.  

“To do what they want, they’ll have to go to the voters,” he said. When they do, “The warm pool can be part of the mix,” he said.  

Building a stadium with new bleachers is the first phase of the project, with an anticipated finish date of June 2011; demolition of the pool and gym will come in the next phase, ending in October 2011; rebuilding the gym and classrooms will come in a third phase ending in 2013, according to Facilities Manager Lew Jones, who spoke to the Planet on Wednesday.  

Jones confirmed that at present only the first two phases are funded. 

“That moves the issue to 2010” to go out for funding, Bates told the council. 

When the Planet asked schools spokesperson Mark Coplan on Wednesday if he thought the district would include the warm pool in an eventual school district bond, Coplan laughed. 

“It will never happen,” he said, explaining that the school district couldn’t include in its bond measure something like the warm pool that is not destined for students. 

But Robert Collier of the Berkeley Pools Alliance—the neighborhood pool-user group that partnered with One Warm Pool advocating for the ballot measure—said in a phone interview with the Planet on Wednesday, that he thought Coplan’s response was as a school district negotiator. 

He said Bates has been able to “pull rabbits out of a hat” to find funds for the Tom Bates Fields (otherwise known as the Gillman Sports Fields) and the Ed Roberts Campus and should be able to get funding for this project. 

Collier pointed to a 1991 agreement between the school district and the city that says the district may want to develop properties where existing pools are located. 

If so, the agreement says, “The district has the option of relocating any and all of the existing pools on the existing site or to another site, said location to be done at the cost of the district to a site mutually agreed to between the city and district.” 

Collier said he thinks the agreement—on which district and city lawyers are likely to disagree—is likely to give the city leverage in negotiations. 

“Both sides need to be forced into a locked room,” Collier said, adding in an e-mail, “The poor polling results showed that going forward with a bond measure could have been like the Charge of the Light Brigade—a glorious, epic gesture doomed to defeat. We don’t care about the glory. We just want to save our pools. If Mayor Bates and the Council truly follow up on this and get results without the bond, we will be perfectly happy.”