News Analysis: Measure C Supporters Dispel Myths; Leave Questions Hanging

By Thomas Lord
Wednesday June 02, 2010 - 08:51:00 PM
Assorted civic leaders pose for the camera at the press conference held by supporters of Measure C.
Thomas Lord
Assorted civic leaders pose for the camera at the press conference held by supporters of Measure C.
Videographer LA Wood makes a video of the Warm Pool to be used by Measure C supporters.
Thomas Lord
Videographer LA Wood makes a video of the Warm Pool to be used by Measure C supporters.

Supporters of Measure C, including elected officials, representatives of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, the One Warm Pool Campaign, and warm pool users, gathered at the warm pool on Tuesday to dispel myths they believe are harming Measure C’s chances of passing. Measure C is Berkeley’s only measure on the upcoming June 8thballot. Its purpose as stated on the ballot is “to replace the multiuse indoor Warm Pool, renovate Willard and West Campus pools, construct a multipurpose pool at King [and] levy a special tax,” to increase funding for pool operating costs. 


Measure C has become controversial because it proposes to authorize the sale of $22.5 million of bonds to fund construction and renovation.It would impose a temporary parcel tax to repay the bonds and also an additional parcel tax of indefinite extent to help pay for running the pools.The City Attorney has estimated the average residential tax burden at about $70 per year, the average commercial property tax burden at about $369.At the same time, supporters view Berkeley’s public pools an essential and highly desirable contribution to Berkeley’s civic life, well worth the price in terms of its benefits for community building and the public health. 



Myths and Responses

Measure C supporters are concerned that voters have critical misunderstandings.Among these: 


Some critics of Measure C suggest that Berkeley has no need to build a new warm pool and that the greener alternative is to rehabilitate the current pool.Supporters are quick to, correctly, point out that the current warm pool is the property of the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) and exists in a dilapitated and seismically unsafe building.They say that BUSD has made a firm decision to raze the building and build more classrooms so there is no realistic possibility of saving the current pool. 


Some critics have argued that the warm pool serves such a small percentage of Berkeley residents that the expense of replacing it cannot be justified.Users of the pool who attended the meeting, including folks with rather severe mobility difficulties, recorded moving and persuasive comments about the public health benefits of the pool. In conversation, supporters offered their view that more people in Berkeley would use the pool if it were not in such poor condition and were available for a greater number of hours. 


Measure C extends beyond simply the warm pool.In January of this year the City Council announced that Willard Pool may face a shut-down due to poor conditions and budget cuts, the implication being that only measure C can save it. Critics assert that Measure C is fiscally irresponsible to which Kriss Worthington posed the question of which is more irresponsible: restoring Willard or “letting it rot”? 


Worthington described the campaign against Measure C as “factually incorrect and morally wrong”.Writing in commentary on the blog berkeleyside.com, Robert Collier, who sat on the Berkeley Pools Taskforce, said “it all comes down to values. Do you think we should have good public services and recreational facilities in Berkeley, or not? I plan on raising my kid(s) and living here for the rest of my life. My wife and I hope our two-month-old son will have a pool to swim in with his friends and neighbors. I love Berkeley, and I don’t want to let its pools crumble and disappear, for all neighborhoods, the able-bodied and the disabled. That’s why I’m voting for Measure C.”Councilmember Daryl Moore described opposition assertions as “lies, distortions” saying they were an example of “teabag practices”. 


Supporters noted an anti-Measure C postcard that was allegedly widely mailed and promulgated misconceptions about the measure but they did not have a copy on hand and were unable to identify who sent it. 



Some Issues Not Resolved

Supporters were less well able to answer two areas of concern that have been raised by critics of the measure. First, the question of whether the proposed pool developments are more ambitious than they need to be, and are therefore imprudent in the current economic climate. Second, the question of whether the bond and tax structure of Measure C is well constructed or whether it could be abused to help close the city deficit with borrowed money and a new tax to repay that money. 


The proposed bond authorization of $22.5 million dollars is a budget sufficient for the plans developed by the Berkeley Pools Taskforce, city staff, BUSD, and others. These plans include, for example, not merely repairing and restoring Willard to keep it open, but substantial renovations such as the creation of a playpool with an elaborate waterslide and other features. Critics in several forums have asserted that a more basic repair of existing facilities would be far less expensive. 


Asked about the seeming excess of the plan Robert Collier, a pools task force member, asserted “Willard will be rehabilitated as is with 0 changes.” He said the same of the West outdoor pool.Asked for assurance that the bond measure contained such limits he asserted that the City Attorney’s analysis in ballot information provided that guarantee.Our examination of the ballot and the Council resolutions behind it do not support his assertion. 


Concerning the structure of the bond and whether it can be abused to paper over budget deficits with borrowed money and new taxes, supporters deny this.Collier says “It’s just irresponsible to say that you can just plug the budget holes with this money.” We could not find support for that assertion when examining the Council resolutions that define the substance of Measure C. The City will be free to replace funds currently spent on pools with borrowed Measure C money and, to the best of our understanding, will be free to pay some operating expenses using borrowed money. Measure C does not obligate the City to do so, but to do so would, in fact, help close budget deficits using money borrowed under Measure C and repaid by taxpayers with interest. 


Collier asserts that although he objects to the “Big Lies” of the opposition, he does feel that whether this is the right time for Measure C and whether the measure contains the right details is a fair debate. 



An Entanglement of Issues

Voters are left with a clear understanding that, without Measure C, the Warm Pool will be lost for an indefinite amount of time, along with a likely shutdown of Willard. Measure C offers only a “package deal”: save the Warm Pool but only if not merely repairing existing pools, but investing in significant improvements to them with a fairly open-ended bond issue and tax. 


JoAnn Cook of the One Warm Pool Campaign provided some insight into how the issues became entangled. The Warm Pool users have struggled for years to create and maintain City support.As it became clear that the pool would need to be replaced, Warm Pool supporters made the tactical decision to join forces with pool boosters who had better resources for fighting a political battle: the ambitions of improving existing pools, building new pools, and replacing the Warm Pool became entangled. Without the unified effort and political sophistication of other pool boosters, a ballot measure to support the Warm Pool might not have made the ballot, just as it failed to make the ballot in 2009. 



Plug Your Nose and Jump In?

Nothing in Measure C obligates the City to borrow the full $22.5 million or spend it unwisely or on overly ambitious upgrades. At the same time, nothing in Measure C appears to prevent it. Voters have a difficult choice before them and, as Measure C supporters pointed out on Tuesday, misinformation abounds (and we hope we haven’t added too much more of it here). 


On a personal note, please vote with care and please don’t underestimate either the importance of the Warm Pool and Willard to our community or the potential with this measure for the City to go off the rails and waste money.It’s a tough choice. 


[Editor's note: Here's the resulting video . There's also a Measure C campaign website.]