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Who Gets Access to Publicly Owned Swimming Pools?

A letter from Action Alameda News publisher David Howard

Measure C promises to build yet another swimming pool in Alameda, which we surely can’t afford to maintain better than any of the existing four pools. Construction generally amounts to 1/3rd of a facility’s total lifetime cost to operate, and Measure C provides no operating funds.

But, that’s correct, I said ‘four’ pools. Emma Hood, Encinal Swim Center, and two pools, one each at Franklin and Lincoln park. The latter two are owned by the City of Alameda, but leased for operation to the Alameda Swimming Pool Association, a non-profit.

According to IRS filings for this group, “volunteers staff classes to provide free instruction to non-members consisting of approximately 700 kindergarten age Alameda children, special education children and senior citizens.” Oh! So Alameda’s children do have access to these City-owned pools after all.

Not so fast. As one salt-and-pepper haired lady of a certain age on the Alameda League of Women Voters board explained, one needs to be a member of the association to use the facilities, other than this free instruction. In the IRS filing, the group claims membership of 550 families, out of roughly 30,000 households in Alameda. Oh! So Alameda’s children do NOT have access to these City-owned pools after all.

Why the membership requirement? “For historical reasons,” my interlocutor continued. When I hear that, I know well enough to interpret “historical” as “hysterical.” Digging into City of Alameda records, I found a recent recommendation from Alameda City Manager John Russo to extend the lease of these two pools to the association.

According to that document, the “hysterical” reasons behind handing over publicly-owned swimming pools dates back some 60 years or so. One can only imagine what sort of hysterical reasons white, middle-class, Alameda had in the 1950s for restricting access to a publicly-owned facility through membership.

So, what are the plans for the new pool supposedly paid for Measure C? Will it be run by the City of Alameda and truly open to all residents? Or will it be turned over to this existing association, in one of the public-private partnerships that John Russo touts as the future of municipal government, so that they can restrict access to the pool to only those families that can afford to pay the membership dues?

Honestly, the answer doesn’t matter all that much, because I don’t believe the new pool will get built. In a court ruling on the Measure C Williams v. City of Alameda petition, the judge wrote that Measure C, “describes only general projects that are eligible for funding but does not commit the City to a definite course of action as to any particular project.”

The language of Measure C allows council to allocate the $54 million to any project they want, including allocating it all to public safety, and none to building a swimming pool, or renovating libraries, and I suspect that’s just what will happen.

— David Howard, Alameda

1 comment to Who Gets Access to Publicly Owned Swimming Pools?

  • Barbara

    My family and I belonged to the Franklin Pool Association for years. My kids rarely took lessons, they got those at Ash Jones’ backyard pool. And they never held parties there, their classmates held them at the Clinton Pool which is private.

    The fee used to be $100 per year per family, for that if anyone could pass the lifeguard test, and was certified in resusitation, and CPR, he or she got a key (now a code) to the pool in return for lifeguarding duties once a year or so.

    Essentially, when I lived nearby, I would do laps in the morning. Children could go any time it was open swimming- usually weekends in the afternoon. While there was no overt discrimination, membership was pretty much limited to those who sought it out, rather than advertising. (I am not sure what they do now.)

    Lessons were not limited to members. Or children of members.

    As I recall, Encinal and Emma Hood were also open certain hours for paid public swimming. However I have not been back since I graduated from EHS. And haven’t been to Emma Hood since I enrolled at EHS.

    I think it is appropriate to point out that there is (was) a great swimming pool in the gym at the base which wouild be great for competition.

    Instead of getting pool supporters and swimmers to support Measure C, they should be encouraged to demand answers to the following questions:

    1. Where will the new pool be located?

    2. How much will it cost?
    a. To build?
    b. To operate annually?

    3. Who will operate the pool(s)?

    4. When is the earliest it could be built in terms of CEQA compliance and obtaining a private operator/agreement?

    5. What if no one comes forward to operate the pool(s) and or pay the operating costs?

    6. Is this money going to be reserved from the Measure C bond money if it can’t be built for a number of years?

    7. What guarantee that other more quickly approved projects won’t take all the Measure C money?

    8. Will this ensure that firefighters maintain water rescue skills so that another person does not die?

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