Pool bond measure moves closer to November ballot

Pool serves many in the community, including high school sports, seen here as boys' water polo takes on Alameda.

A $19.5 million bond measure to raise money for a new Piedmont Community Pool is on its way to the November general election ballot, with the Piedmont City Council’s initial approval of the measure Monday night.

The council will do a “second reading” of the measure at its Aug. 3 meeting, just ahead of the Aug. 7 deadline to submit the measure to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters office for inclusion on the November ballot. 

If council members approve the second reading on Aug. 3, they will then decide on a resolution formally placing the measure on the ballot, setting the formal 75-word ballot question, and setting other procedural details regarding the election. Also assuming second reading is approved, the council will on Aug. 3 consider direct and rebuttal arguments for the measure that would appear in the local voter information guide. 

Replacing the city’s crumbling, leaking 56-year-old pool – now closed because of COVID-19-related health restrictions – has been on the city’s collective mind 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. And in recent weeks, council members and residents alike weighed in on the importance of a swimming pool, and how it provides not only exercise for residents of all ages, but serves as a community meeting spot and as a place for local school teams to practice.

Perhaps because the state of the pool and the need for a new one has been so thoroughly vetted over the last several years, there was little discussion of it by the council Monday night before its 5-0 vote.

The plan is 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 from which the city could collect rental income.

City Administrator Sara Lillevand said Monday night that, should bond money not stretch to pay for everything, the two-story building could be scaled back to a one-story building that meets “basic aquatic needs” like providing changing rooms and showers. 

That 2016 report pegged the price of a new pool at about $15 million. Lillevand said Monday night that inflation and otherwise higher costs now put that cost at about $18.2 million. The $19.5 million takes into account further inflation and possible interest-rate increases. City financial consultants said Monday night that the chance of a significant interest rate increase by early 2022 – probably the earliest construction would begin – is remote.

This general obligation bond would require a two-thirds vote for passage. Starting in the 2021-2022 tax year, residential property taxes would go up anywhere from $39 to $660 per year, depending on the taxable valuation of a given property. It would cost $257 per year in additional tax for the median Piedmont home, a city staff report says.

Also on Monday, the council on a 5-0 vote made formal and official its vote of July 6 to put on the November ballot an increase of the city’s real property transfer tax. If approved by voters, the increase would raise an additional $700,000 to $900,000 annually to bridge an anticipated gap of that amount in the city’s facilities maintenance fund for ongoing maintenance of city buildings, infrastructure and parks. 

The transfer 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 $2.2 million, the average transfer tax per home sale transaction would increase by $9,900. The change, if voters approve, would take effect July 1, 2021.

Also: tackling racism, and masks

Separately, the council on Monday night also mentioned two matters they hope to take up in full in the near future. Mayor Robert McBain asked city staff to help assemble a “comprehensive and thoughtful” statement to the community about racism, and “where we are as a community” on the topic. This is in the aftermath of the killing in May of George Floyd by a Minnapolis police officer and the resulting nationwide wave of demonstrations and discussions about racial equality..

In addition, Vice Mayor Teddy Gray King asked about “reasonable expectations for enforcement” for wearing masks or other facial coverings as the COVID-19 coronavirus confirmed case numbers in Alameda County and the Bay Area continue to rise. 

Though she didn’t refer to it specifically Monday night, an incident discussed in a July 15 city email made plain the situation with face coverings.

“Last Friday night, a City of Piedmont park ambassador encountered more than 60 adults playing soccer at Beach field,” the email said. “Players were not practicing social distancing and not wearing face coverings. When asked to do so, players were not willing to abide by safety protocols, and challenged the park ambassador using vulgar language.”

King realizes it’s a sensitive topic. “The problem isn’t going away, and it isn’t abating,” she said.

Reach Sam Richards at sam.richards4344@gmail.com

One thought on “Pool bond measure moves closer to November ballot

  1. I think a new pool is an excellent idea and long overdue. Given that it not only provides recreation and swim lessons, but is also the club team and high school teams’ one and only facility, it absolutely needs major improvement. The pool is also a gathering place for families and offers lap swimming to older adults. In short, it’s a multi-functional facility that’s been in need of a complete overhaul for the last 20 years and is part of the fabric of piedmont. While interest rates are low, let’s seize the opportunity to fund a new pool!

    As for transfer taxes, perhaps Piedmont should consider a sliding scale, as many other municipalities now do. The city taxes (county-wide) are already hefty, which is why they are typically split between Buyer and Seller, but certainly the person stretching to buy the $1.5 million dollar house in Piedmont, is in a vastly different position to absorb the hike, than is the $5,000,000 buyer. Just a thought.

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