In Washington DC and around the country, conservatives are hoping they can bluff their way into upset victories in this year’s elections. Health care, clean energy, financial regulation and other much-needed reforms are in their gun sights as they fire inflammatory claims and accusations. In Berkeley, the local “Party of No” seems to hope it can use the same tactics to defeat a ballot measure that would save some of our community’s most basic yet best-loved amenities – our four municipal swimming pools.
The conservatives’ strategy is brazen – to combine one bogus factoid on top of another as fast as possible, in a barrage of bluster that is intended to overwhelm and confuse voters. A perfect example is the article by Marie Bowman in the April 10 Daily Planet, “Pools Bond Floats Special Interest Groups.” Bowman packs an astounding number of false statements into her argument against Measure C, which will be on the ballot June 8. Nearly every claim in her article is provably factually incorrect.
Let's start with some truths that Bowman glosses over. Measure C would save two of the city’s four pools from certain extinction – Willard Pool, which is scheduled for permanent closure this July, and the Warm Pool, which will be evicted next year from its location at Berkeley High School. Measure C also would remodel West Campus Pool and expand King Pool. Overall, it would save and improve the four pools as wonderful community centers for Berkeley’s children, adults, seniors and disabled.
But the Party of No has turned reality upside down. Here are some of the false claims in Bowman’s article:
Claim: Measure C would raise annual pools maintenance costs to $3.5 million, to be further adjusted for inflation. Fact: Measure C provides $980,000 for pools hours, programs and maintenance, adjusted for inflation. Measure C has an authorization limit of $3.5 million by 2040, most of which is for annual repayment of the bond’s principal and interest.
Claim: $20 million in new taxes were approved by Berkeley voters last November. Fact: Zero new taxes were approved last November.
Claim: UC Berkeley’s program for the disabled operates a warm pool that could be used by the city. Fact: UC Berkeley has no such pool. The Cal STAR sports program for the disabled provides access to the three campus outdoor pools, none of which is warmer than 82 degrees – far too cold for most disabled people, many elderly and others who cannot generate enough body heat while in the water.
Claim: The Warm Pool at Berkeley High School could be remodeled and not demolished. Fact: Even if many wish otherwise, the School Board has decided that BHS needs more space for classrooms and other facilities and that the Warm Pool must be evicted to make way for a new building. Demolition is scheduled for June 2011.
Claim: The Warm Pool could be substituted by the Downtown Berkeley YMCA’s two warm pools. Fact: The YMCA has only one warm pool, which is only 3.5 feet deep and thus cannot serve the disabled and others who need full-body immersion, and its lateral dimensions are so small that wave action prevents lap swimming. YMCA administrators say their pools are near maximum user capacity and cannot handle a significant increase.
Claim: The Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA) does not recommend the use of pools above 86 degrees except for limited uses, and the Warm Pool’s 92-degree water is dangerous. Fact: AEA official guidelines explicitly state that 92-degree water is appropriate for infants, physical therapy for all ages, and people with arthritis and Parkinson’s.
Claim: The new Warm Pool would be Olympic size, extravagantly large. Fact: The Warm Pool would be the same as its current 2,250 square feet, which is about one-sixth the Olympic 25 meters by 50 meters, or 13,455 square feet.
Claim: The Berkeley High School competition pool could meet the needs of middle school students and the Barracudas team. Fact: The BHS competition pool is solidly booked with BHS aquatics programs every weekday afternoon after classes.
Claim: Rehabbing Willard as a competition pool would reduce Measure C’s cost by $2.5 million. Fact: Doing so would raise the measure’s capital cost by $1.3 million, plus extra operating expenses.
Claim: Berkeley municipal debt is rising from $4 million in 2010 to $15 million in 2011. Fact: By law, the City must approve a balanced budget each year. Berkeley has a Standard & Poor's bond credit rating of AA+, putting Berkeley in the highest 1 percent of cities nationwide.
Claim: Maintenance costs for Measure C have grown 380 percent. Fact: Nothing remotely resembling any such increase exists.
So why such a reckless disregard for the truth? Perhaps because Berkeley voters have soured on Bowman’s “anti-tax” ideology. In the 2006 and 2008 Berkeley elections, Bowman and her Party of No tried to defeat ballot measures that supported the public schools, branch libraries and emergency services. But the Party of No failed each time, as Berkeley residents voted in favor of the facilities and programs that are so important for our quality of life.
Certainly, Berkeleyans have legitimate concerns about high taxes. But support for Measure C is broad. It was approved by all nine members of the City Council and all five members of School Board. Other endorsers include former Mayor Shirley Dean, Senator Loni Hancock, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and scores of other groups and community leaders.
In the end, Measure C boils down to one simple question – should our community invest for the future? Should we plan for a good quality of life for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and other Berkeley generations? Or should we allow Berkeley’s naysayers to shrink and eliminate our city’s most beloved assets?
PLEASE VOTE YES ON MEASURE C – for our pools, our health, our kids and our community.
Robert Collier is co-chair of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, which can be visited at www.berkeleypools.org and www.facebook.com/berkeleypools.