Colorful graphics welcomed swimmers to Willard Pool when it was open. Photo: Protographer 23
Colorful graphics welcomed swimmers to Willard Pool when it was open. Photo: Protographer 23

After two failures to secure a pools bond measure, advocates for the reopening of Willard Pool turned out in force at Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting. Pool supporters called for including Willard in a likely parks bond measure on the November ballot.

“This is a winning coalition,” said Robert Collier, one of the leaders of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, at the council meeting. “This is our time to win not just for the pools, but for the parks as well.” 

The City Council plans to decide in June on the measures to be included on the ballot. Tuesday night, it agreed to conduct a community poll to assess support on a parks bond and tax increase, a sugar-sweetened drinks tax, a commercial vacancy tax, and a business license tax on rental housing.

Willard Pool closed in June, 2010, after Measure C received slightly over 60% support, short of the 2/3rds it required. Measures N and O, a bond and a tax, in 2012 also failed to reach a 2/3rds majority vote.

At a special meeting Tuesday night before the regular City Council, the Parks and Waterfront Commission presented an overview of its priorities for maintenance and capital projects. The parks tax fund has been operating in deficit since the 2010 fiscal year, and there are considerable unfunded liabilities and unfunded essential maintenance and repair work, according to commission chair Jim McGrath.

Not just ‘eat your spinach’

Willard Pool was filled with dirt in xxx
Willard Pool was filled with dirt in 2010

Pool advocates agreed on the need for more park funds, but in a letter to the City Council they argued that a ballot measure “should not simply be an ‘eat your spinach’ directive for backlogged repairs and the prevention of staff layoffs.” Instead, they proposed “seizing the moment” to rescue Willard Pool, create a new “garden greenway” in the Santa Fe Right of Way in south Berkeley, guarantee that all Berkeley children can learn to swim, and promote the concept of “an emerging public open space network.”

“A super majority is hard to get no matter what’s on the ballot,” said Willard Pool supporter Claudia Polsky. “Sprinkler repairs and cracked pavements are incredibly unsexy.”

“This is one that will capture the imagination,” echoed Donna Michaelson. “And it’s really, really, really crucial. I also feel that some of those less sexy issues, including less sexy pools issues, need to be in there riding those coattails.

“We’re going to have to balance our not-so-sexy needs with other things that are more attractive and higher on the radar for voters,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.

“The Willard Pool was the most popular item at the parks commission,” said George Beier, president, Willard Neighborhood Association. “It may not be popular with the staff, but I can sure sell it to the citizenry. There’s no warm pool this time, and that will also help passage of the bond.”

Previous pools measures, in 2010 and 2012, included funding for a warm pool in Berkeley. Pool supporters now are concentrating on Willard, and contesting an earlier city staff estimate of $4.7 million for a complete rebuilding. On the pools campaign site, they write: “we urge Council to authorize staff to develop cost estimates for a minimal level of repairs to get Willard Pool operational.”

Many of the speakers in favor of the pool reopening on Tuesday night decried what they called the “inequity” in Berkeley schools: King Middle School, with a pool, new running track, and private foundation funding for its Edible Schoolyard, versus Willard Middle School with none of those things.

“The equity problem is mind-boggling,” said Sally Levinson.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said he thought the city should work to open school playgrounds on evenings and weekends in areas where there is a lack of parks, particularly in south Berkeley.

The planned community survey will test voter opinions on a combined $30 million parks bond and 10-12% parks tax increase (a so-called Mello-Roos bond).

Willard Pool supporters turn out for parks meeting (10.17.13)
Berkeley Tuolumne Camp supporters push to rebuild (10.16.13)
Commission, public discuss priorities for Berkeley’s parks (10.04.13)
4 public meetings planned on future of Berkeley parks (09.05.13)
Op-Ed: Berkeley — take steps to re-open Willard pool (11.19.12)
Pools campaign holds mock swimathon for Measures N, O (10.15.12)
City Council approves pools measure, debates streets (06.27.12)
City, citizens debate substandard streets, a closed pool (05.31.12)
Save our pools: Invest in people, close the opportunity gap (05.29.12)
Community rallies to get pool measure on ballot (04.30.12)
More than $100m needed for parks, rec and waterfront (09.29.11)
Will Willard Pool become a vegetable garden? (03.14.11)
Willard swimming pool is now filled with mud (01.05.11)
Swimmers lament today’s closing of Willard Pool (06.30.10)
Last-gasp bid to save Willard Pool eyes city subsidies (06.29.10)
Pools majority falls short: Closures expected (06.09.10)

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...