Swim to save the swimming pools. That was the unofficial motto of the Berkeley Pools Campaign at least for last Friday, when they launched a 24-hour swimathon to raise funds for Measure C, a ballot measure to raise money from taxpayers to upgrade and expand the city’s pools.
The Berkeley City Council recently voted to approve the $22.6 million measure for the June 8 election, paving the way for campaign workers to start raising campaign finances.
Friday’s swimathon started at 6 a.m. and continued until 6 a.m. Saturday.
It’s the biggest fundraiser for the campaign, expected to bring in $20,000, said Rob Collier, co-chair of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, which lobbied the City Council to approve the ballot measure.
As of Monday, the organizers had counted $13,000.
“We hope to raise more money to take us throughout May,” Collier said. “The campaign is going to be very expensive and we expect our opposition to be very well funded.”
So far Measure C has been opposed by a small group of Berkeley residents including Marie Bowman, steering committee chair of Berkeleyans Against Soaring Taxes (BASTA!).
Others listed on the ballot argument signed by Bowman on Friday, the last day to file ballot arguments, included Robert Cabrera, president of Berkeley Can Do Better and Julie Dickinson, secretary of the Council of Neighborhood Associations.
Their argument called for greener alternatives and rehabilitation of existing facilities instead of building new pools at a time of economic instability for the city.
Calls to Bowman for comment were not returned by press time.
The Berkeley High School Old Gym, which houses the warm pool, is scheduled for demolition in 2011 to make room for a new classroom building.
Bowman was one of the main advocates who rallied for adaptive reuse of the historic gym, but her proposal was not adopted.
Rebuttals for both sides of the argument are due today at noon and will be posted at www.cityofberkeley.info/ContentDisplay.aspx?id=50932 by the end of the day.
Collier said that the idea of a swimathon was born right after the council’s final vote.
“There was so much enthusiasm that we had to do something with all that energy,” he said. “The best way to deal with charged up swimmers is to throw them in the pool.”
Although the council had initially voted unanimously to approve a $19 million measure to renovate the city’s three existing public pools—King, Willard and West Campus—and build a new warm water pool at West Campus, it changed its vote at a Feb. 25 meeting when it agreed to include the construction of a new competition pool at King Middle School.
The principal reason for the council’s change of mind was because of the outpouring of support for a new pool at King from the Berkeley Barracudas, a local competitive swim team which complained that the current facility was in dire need of an upgrade. The Masters team, which is mostly made up of older swimmers, also rallied for a new pool.
“A larger pool will allow the Barracudas to train and grow,” Collier said. “So they are really gunning to go.”
Even though a recent voter poll warned that citizens were not too keen to fund pool expansions in a desperate economy, the council reasoned that a new pool at King would garner wider support.
Despite being popular with public pool users in Berkeley, the pools ballot measure has its share of critics, including councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who cautioned at a recent council meeting that taxing citizens during a difficult economy was probably not the wisest thing to do. Wozniak ultimately voted to support the measure with the rest of the council.
Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has been known to show up in his swimming trucks for other aquatics-centered fund raisers, said the ballot measure was critical to keep valuable resources alive for people of all age groups.
Collier acknowledged that the pool’s campaign faced a tough road ahead, including a short window for raising funds, but maintained that it was the only way to save at least two of the city’s pools.
“We have no choice,” he said. “The warm pool is closing next year and Willard Pool will close this year if the ballot measure doesn’t pass. So it’s now or never.”
The City of Berkeley will close Willard Pool in the fall unless a voter-approved bond measure can continue to fund it
“Berkeley residents have made far-sighted investments where it counted,” Collier said. “In the 60s it was the underground BART, in the 70s it was our parks, in the 80s it was emergency services for the disabled and more recently it was support for our schools and libraries. Berkeley voters realize that pools are our community’s future, it’s our legacy to our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren.”
Berkeley Pools Campaign co-chair Shelly Hayden said that each participant pledged to swim for at least an hour for a $100 minimum sponsorship.
“We need to start printing yard signs and brochures that we will distribute to the community as soon as possible,” said Hayden, who swam for an hour and raised more than $300 from her sponsors.
The Cal Men’s Water Polo team showed up along with the Berkeley Aquatic Masters.
One of the swimmers completed 5,500 meters.
Jean Johnsen, an 84-year-old King neighbor who has been swimming in the King Pool for more than 40 years, was one of the top swimathon fundraisers, raising over $600 from her neighbors and friends.
“I could have kept going!” she said, as she got out of the water.
For more information on the Berkeley Pools Campaign, visit www.berkeleypools.org.