While the City Council is holding off at least temporarily on a widely encompassing local bond measure to replace or refurbish the police and fire station and other major buildings, a measure will be on the November ballot to raise enough money to build a new Piedmont Community Pool.
Council members said Monday night that a pool is essential for Piedmont’s very community fabric, and that the prospects of wringing more mileage out of the city’s crumbling, leaking 56-year-old pool are slim to none.
“It’s a good time to move ahead; it’s a question of having a pool that works versus no pool at all,” said Councilman Tim Rood, part of a unanimous 5-0 vote to support a bond measure on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. He and other council members said the old pool, now closed because of COVID-19-driven county health department restrictions, may never be able to reopen.
Though an exact dollar figure hasn’t yet been placed on a pool bond measure, the cost for the plan Piedmont has for a large, deep competition and lap pool, a much smaller recreational pool and a two-story building housing showers, locker rooms and multi-use space, is approximately $15 million.
Also on Monday, the council voted 5-0 to put another measure on the November ballot — for approval of an increase of the city’s real property transfer tax. The purpose is to raise money to replenish the city’s facilities maintenance fund for ongoing maintenance of city buildings, infrastructure and parks.
This tax is paid upon the sale of a house or other property, and can be paid by the buyer, seller, or divvied up by mutual agreement. This increase, if approved by voters, would raise the total transfer tax from $13 to $17.50 per $1,000 of sales price.
Using a median Piedmont home sales price of $2,200,000, the average transfer tax per home sale transaction would increase by $9,900, City Administrator Sara Lillevand said.
‘A community pool is essential’
The need for a new Piedmont pool has been a talking point for at least 20 years. Starting in 2002, the Piedmont community has launched several organized efforts to plan and build a new aquatics center, most recently the “Aquatics Master Plan Conceptual Design” in November 2016.
Council members, along with a dozen or so public speakers Monday night, had a multitude of reasons for going ahead with a general obligation bond issue for the swimming pool now. One, the pool is used by Piedmont’s school swim and water polo teams, as well as by other school-related programs. Without a local pool, Councilwoman Betsy Andersen said, local teams would have to leave town for all practices and meets. She also said the pool has provided summer jobs for Piedmont youth for decades.
“In my mind, having access to a community pool is essential,” Andersen said.
There’s also a property values issue. Liz Behrens, a Piedmont-based Realtor, told the council the presence of a pool could swing prospective buyers toward, or away from, a Piedmont sale.
“I honestly think people would move to Orinda over Piedmont if we didn’t have a pool,” Behrens said.
John Savage, Piedmont High’s boys water polo coach, said there will be a “small army” of local athletes and their families willing to knock on doors, drum up support for the bond measure and tell local voters why a pool is important.
Mayor Robert McBain said those feet on the ground will be needed to make that happen. “It will take those 200 people to go out and help,” he said. “It will take more than the five of us on the council.” This taxing measure would require a two-thirds vote.
The council asked Lillevand to prepare a presentation showing people just how dilapidated the pool is; for instance, Andersen said a friend of hers was swimming laps there earlier this year when part of the pool deck simply collapsed.
Lillevand said the pool building’s planned multi-use space is at a premium in Piedmont, and that renting it out could help with cost recovery for the entire pool project.
While a couple of speakers told the council they favored waiting on the pool bond until a planned bond measure to replace or refurbish the police and fire station and other major buildings was taken care of, all council members said the time to jump into the deep end is now.
“Waiting isn’t an option – we’ve been waiting long enough,” Councilwoman Jen Cavenaugh said.
More work on larger bond measure
In a June 15 report to the council, the city’s Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee said the city needs to find a new revenue source outside existing money streams to raise the needed money for extensive work on the police and fire stations, as well as the veterans memorial building, the Recreation Department building, Linda Beach Park and Coaches Field. The overall cost for the needed work is estimated at $53.9 million and $76.5 million.
Piedmont’s 70-year-old police department building is too small and inefficient in myriad ways, according to a Santa Rosa civic-building architect who studied the facility in October. That same firm analyzed the fire station earlier this year, and found many deficiencies there, as well.
The budget committee’s June 15 report recommended the city pursue a community facilities district bond. The committee favored the CFD bonds over general obligation bonds because the CFD provides a more level obligation across all city parcels, which all benefit relatively equally from police and fire services likely to be the chief beneficiaries of the bond funding.
But at their June 29 meeting, council members were told there wasn’t time to put a community facilities district measure on the November ballot, given the required public hearings and their timing. The alternatives would then be to either go ahead with a general obligation bond issue, or go with a CFD, which would require a special election, likely early in 2021. Saying they preferred the CFD approach, the council chose Monday to wait, ask staff to do more studying and come back with a CFD bond issue, likely early next year.
Contact Sam Richards at email@example.com