City to extend pool use agreement by a year

City to extend pool use agreement by a year

Michele Ellson

Photo by Jack Boeger.

The City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to extend its agreement to jointly use and operate the school district’s high school pools through September 2014 as council members sought to assure Alameda’s swimmers that they’re working to secure a long-term fix for the aging pools.

“I want to assure you, we’ve been working very hard to try to solve this in a way that respects the swim community, the autonomy of the school district, and (maintains) some financial rigor in this organization,” City Manager John Russo said.

The council voted in September to offer a $1.15 million loan to rehabilitate the Encinal Swim Center – and to give school district leaders until this Friday to accept it, or face the end of their joint use agreement for the pools. The deadline incensed swimmers, who accused the city of failing to work cooperatively with the school district to fix their aging pools and said they feared the move could shut the pools down.

In addition to the schools, the pools are used by the city for swim programs and lessons and by community groups ranging from youth swim teams to adult master swimmers.

City leaders offered their own frustrations about the time they’ve spent trying to find a fix for the pools – more than two years, according to Mayor Marie Gilmore – and about being pegged as the bad guy even as they are offering to cover the full, $1.9 million cost of rehabilitating the Encinal High pools.

“My frustration comes from not being able to close a deal and move forward, and to get us out of this limbo we’ve been stuck in,” Gilmore said.

Several times during Tuesday’s meeting, for example, Councilwoman Lena Tam made note of the fact that the council was refinancing bonds to raise $3 million to pay for a new emergency operations center while offering existing revenue to cover the pools. Russo was more direct, saying the city is not to blame.

“There’s been a sense that the city has somehow been responsible for this impasse,” he said. “I’m not saying school district is, but we may not reach a deal the school district feels they can live with.”

Swimmers and city leaders seemed to agree that a long-term fix for the pools was needed; they’ve been shut down several times for major maintenance and upgrades over the past several years, including a recent shutdown of the Emma Hood Swim Center after the pools’ heater failed. Swimmers said Tuesday they just want to make sure that the pools will stay open until that long-term solution is reached (schools leaders have not said publicly whether or not they would shutter the pools, and Superintendent Kirsten Vital has called negotiations with the city productive).

“It’s just critical to the people of Alameda that this continues,” said Don Krause, president of Alameda Island Aquatics, one of several swim groups that use the pools.

In other action, the council:

-Voted to approve a contract of up to $291,000 for design of a new emergency operations center;

-Tabled a discussion about evaluation criteria for Alameda Point development proposals until the council's November 5 meeting;

-Agreed to send a letter to McGee's Bar & Grill owner John Costello asking him to lower a $200 monthly rent increase he imposed on a tenant in June to $40. The city's Rent Review Advisory Committee determined that the increase, which would raise tenant Ron Jackson's rent 50 percent, was excessive, and asked him to reduce it; Costello - who had a group of supporters at the council meeting Tuesday - said he opted not to appear before the committee or to reduce the increase after learning the committee only has an advisory role. An earlier rent case that went to the City Council prompted some members to say they may be willing to consider imposing rent control in Alameda if landlords continued to press major rent increases.