Council Approves Pools Plan, OKs Voter Survey for Bond Measure

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday November 25, 2009 - 08:46:00 AM
Senior pool users at the Berkeley High warm water pool. <i>(File photo.)</i>
Riya Bhattacharjee
Senior pool users at the Berkeley High warm water pool. (File photo.)

The Berkeley City Council at its Nov. 17 meeting adopted the Citywide Pools Master plan which proposes to expand or revamp the city’s existing public pools and relocate the warm water pool from the seismically unsafe Berkeley High School Old Gym to West Campus. 

Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department Manager William Rogers told the council that the city had identified two ways to fund the project—a bond measure or a Mello-Roos Community Facilities District, where a special property tax on real estate is imposed on homeowners. 

Both funding mechanisms will require 66.6 percent voter approval, Rogers said. Money from the bond measure will go only toward construction. The city currently doesn’t have funds to cover operational costs. 

Funds from Mello-Roos will cover both construction and operational expenditures. 

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said that if the Berkeley Unified School District decided to put bond measures on the November 2010 ballot, the city would have to place the pools bond on the June 2010 ballot. 

The school district will let the council know by January whether it plans to have any bond measures on the November 2010 ballot. 

Councilmember Darryl Moore, whose constituency includes the West Campus, said the pools bond measure would be very difficult to pass. 

“I believe we owe them as a city,” he said. “I am hoping we can pay for the pool.” 

When Williams informed councilmembers that they would have to decide Jan. 19 whether to choose the bond measure or Mello-Roos, Moore said the date was far too late to prepare for the June ballot. 

“I want to do another survey,” Moore said. “And I hope the poll will include Mello-Roos.” 

A survey of Berkeley voters in the spring of 2008 showed that 50 percent of voters would approve a $22 million bond measure—the figure used then—to “build a new heated therapy pool and rehabilitate outdoor public pools.” Those surveyed had been sensitive to the cost. 

Williams pointed out that although only 57 percent of Berkeley voters polled in May 2008 supported a $26 million bond measure ($30 annually) to improve the city’s libraries, the library bond measure, FF, passed by 68 percent. 

Bates stressed that the city didn’t have the funds to do another poll, which he estimated would cost $20,000. 

“But we need the data,” Moore argued. “This is going to benefit the entire city. Let’s at least give them a chance to pass this thing.” 

Moore’s motion to carry out a survey passed at the end of the meeting. 

Although most warm water pool users are satisfied with the new warm pool design, many remain concerned about disabled parking on the West Campus. 

A 10-member aquatics task force completed the master plan in April 2009, recommending a preferred option, which includes the contruction of a 25-yard by 25-meter outdoor competition pool at King Middle School; a 2,790-square-foot indoor warm water pool; a 3,510-square-foot indoor lap pool at West Campus; the renovation of the pool and locker rooms; and the conversion of the dive pool to a children’s play pool at Willard, all for a total cost of $29,231,000.  

The Berkeley Board of Education has approved 1,900 square feet of additional land at West Campus for the warm water pool as part of the preferred plan.  

Berkeley Unified is planning to start construction at West Campus to convert an old adult school classroom building into the district’s administrative headquarters. The project is not expected to clash with the pool construction.  

At an April 21 workshop, the Berkeley City Council asked city staff to design a “design variant” to the preferred plan that altered the size and configuration of some of the pools and lowered the total cost of the project by around $4 million.  

The plan includes a warm water pool similar in size to the existing pool (2,250 square feet) and a larger, outdoor recreational pool at West Campus, a shallower end with a slide at the King pool which would provide more opportunity for swim lessons and recreational and public use, and keeps the design for the Willard pool unchanged.  

The total cost of the alternative design comes to $25,370,000.  

On May 19, 2009, the City Council gave the city manager the green light to move ahead with environmental analysis of the preferred plan and design variant of the Citywide Pools Master Plan.  

Based on the initial environmental report, Rogers proposed a mitigated negative declaration instead of an environmental impact report, explaining that “although the proposed project could have a significant effect on the environment, there will not be a significant effect in this case because revisions in the project have been made by or agreed to by the project proponent.”  

The council voted to adopt the mitigated negative declaration and incorporate the design variant into the master plan.