At its Feb. 11 meeting, the City Council took a big step forward toward a ballot measure in the November election for the parks and pools. An animated crowd of Willard Pool supporters spoke passionately and eloquently, waving blue "Restore Willard Pool" signs.
In a unanimous vote, the Council authorized City staff to develop parks-related questions for the voter survey that includes Willard Pool and a variety of other parks projects including gardens and pathways in the now-abandoned Santa Fe Right of Way in South Berkeley. For a detailed version of the meeting, see Berkeleyside's excellent article today. Willard Pool, which has been filled with dirt since 2010, is slated for major renovations, while King and West Campus Pools would receive more modest improvements (mainly locker rooms, pumps and electrical).
The voter survey, which will be carried out in March via telephone, will offer respondents two basic options:
- A Mello-Roos measure comprising $30 million in capital funding (for new construction and major maintenance at parks and pools all around town), plus $1 million in operations costs (to operate Willard Pool, maintain Santa Fe Right of Way, and for upkeep and repairs at parks, sports fields and rec centers all around Berkeley.
- A $750,000 increase in the city's Parks Tax for basic maintenance of parks and to prevent further staff layoffs. This option would not re-open Willard Pool and it would achieve little other than preventing further deterioration at the parks.
The numbers in these two options were a bit vague, and staff will talk with the pollsters and come back at the Feb. 25 Council meeting with a more detailed plan. Another aspect that was a bit blurry and presumably will be clarified by staff is the fact that the #1 scenario mentioned above will be accompanied by a list of potential parks projects, probably about a dozen. Parks that were mentioned included James Kenney Park, Aquatic Park and the Rose Garden. At the Feb. 11 meeting, Council and staff went back and forth about whether that the survey will ask for ranked opinions on each project item, or whether the list would be illustrative only. It wasn't immediately clear how that was resolved. The survey will also attempt to gauge voters' price point -- that is, what is the maximum cost level that still would be likely to gain the required two-thirds supermajority of votes.
Other crucial questions that need to be clarified were detailed in a Feb. 11 joint letter to the City Council by nine parks and pools advocates. The letter (which was excerpted in the Berkeleyside article mentioned above) can be read here.
Long story short -- Willard Pool is well on its way toward the ballot, accompanied by lesser (but still important) work at King and West Campus Pools, along with a wide variety of much-needed and inspiring projects at parks, ballfields and rec centers throughout Berkeley. But lots of crucial details remain. Not the least of which is the voter survey itself. We will have to rally public support and explain what's at stake to neighbors, friends, fellow school parents and others between now and mid-March to ensure that the results for option #1 are as good as they can be.