By Tanya Dennis
Hundreds of concerned parents, children and community members converged on Berkeley City Council chambers Tuesday with signs, beach balls and towels to demand the reopening of Willard Pool.
Supporters are demanding that an initiative to reopen the pool – located in south Berkeley – be placed on the ballot this November.
The measure would include building a warm pool, restoring Willard and making repairs to the West Campus pool.
There were four operational pools prior to 2010 in Berkeley, each serving different parts of the city. King pool is located in north Berkeley; West Campus pool in west Berkeley; the warm pool, which served the very young, disabled and elderly; and Willard, which served primarily minorities residing in South Berkeley.
During a budget crisis in 2010, Berkeley Parks and Recreation made $80,000 in cuts to the city’s aquatics program, closing Willard pool and filling it with dirt after a ballot measure to keep it open failed.
Built in 1963, the pool, located next door to Willard Middle School at Stuart Street and Telegraph Avenue, was the oldest of the city’s facilities and included a 3,800-square-foot dive pool and an L-shaped wading area.
The bill to renovate the pool was high. Cracked concrete, loose tiles, an outdated gutter drainage system and other repairs were expected to cost $4.6 million.
Rob Collier, co-chair of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, said that it was important to keep the pool running because it benefited a sizable African-American and Latino community.
“You go there on any day, and it was open and jam-packed with kids and adults having fun,” he said. “Swimming is an important life skill, which children from minority families are often unable to learn. That’s where Willard comes in.”
The only way to restore Willard is by voting to save all the pools, approving a bond measure on the ballot, said Collier..
Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who represents the Willard neighborhood, said he would back such a bond.
“I strongly support all four pools as top priority amongst the five ballot measures being considered. The warm water pool is urgently needed by many seniors and the disabled community. One pool alone does not probably have enough supporters to win. A combination of 2,3 or 4 pools can win.”
However, according Councilmember Linda Maio, voters are not likely to vote for a pool bond, which requires a 2/3 majority to pass.
“The pools were considered twice in recent voter surveys and, unfortunately, did not do well regarding voter support to tax themselves for the pools,” she said. “Ultimately, it is up to the voters, and surveys showed limp voter support compared to watershed protection and street repair.”
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) this week released an annual childhood drowning report urging parents to be aware of swimming pool safety before summer heats up.
The report focuses on racial disparities in drowning rates. Black children between the ages of 5 and 14, are three times more likely to drown than white children of the same age range.
As many as 70 percent of Black and 62 percent of Hispanic children cannot swim, and drowning rates among African Americans increase through childhood and peak at 15 to 19 years of age.