The sound of children resonated throughout city hall Tuesday night as dozens of Richmond families descended on the City Council meeting to lobby for a divider in The Plunge pool.
The $350,000 movable bulkhead, which the council tentatively approved at the meeting, will allow city employees at the pool to cordon off a 25-yard stretch of the 1926 swimming pool for competitive swimming. They could also move it to separate the deep end from the shallow end, or slide it completely to the edge of the pool to make room for indoor kayaking.
But residents opposed to the bulkhead argue that it’s too difficult to move and configure the four-inch thick divider, which will weigh several hundred pounds. In fact, they say it will be so hard to set up the bulkhead that it will essentially become a permanent fixture in the middle of the Point Richmond pool.
“When that bulkhead is to be moved those panels have to be slid up. It’s going to have to be lifted and secured underwater which means scuba diving gear, I guess,” said Ellie Strauss, the executive director for Save the Richmond Plunge Trust. The Trust was created to raise money to renovate the historical landmark after it was shut down in 2001.
“I want you to do the right thing,” she told the council.
But when the council voted 5-1 in favor, with only council member Nat Bates opposing the bulkhead — Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was out sick — Strauss and her husband Robert stormed out of the council meeting in disgust.
Robert Strauss, the Trust’s treasurer, told Richmond Confidential after the meeting that his involvement with the pool was over. Ellie Strauss said she wasn’t ready to abandon the project, but expressed strong animosity toward the numerous bulkhead supporters who helped sway the council. They said they wouldn’t be opposed to the bulkhead if it were actually easy to move, but insisted this will not be the case.
City Manager Bill Lindsay recommended against the installation of the bulkhead in a report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting. He said he opposes the project because it relies on an untested modification the city added to eliminate a gap at the bottom and to secure the County Health Department’s approval. The report also said that while the bulkhead would give athletes an opportunity to swim a standard 25-yard short course, the city already offers this service at it’s other pool about three miles down Cutting Boulevard.
Dozens of families spoke in favor of The Plunge, most of whom have students attending Washington Elementary less than two blocks from the pool.
“We’re fighting this fight for the children that go to Washington Elementary School and don’t have the opportunity to get across town to swim at the Richmond Swim Center,” said Corinne Jonas Mayer, a Point Richmond resident and mother of two. “These 100-plus parents (and their children) that are here… they will use the plunge to swim around and have fun there, but they cannot train there, they cannot get full exercise.”
The city originally planned to pay for the bulkhead out of its share of a bond through the East Bay Regional Park District. Spending that money on The Plunge would mean that parks throughout the city wouldn’t receive the money for planned renovations. Lindsay said that there is already a shortage in the fund to pay for all the park projects planned.
“We do have kids that live on the South side of Richmond that like to play in the parks. Don’t take this money for something that accomplishes something for a few people,” resident Naomi Williams told the council. “You always say that we’re one Richmond… It looks like tonight you’re questioning the city manager because it’s something you personally want, not for the benefit of the entire city.”
But other residents suggested that opening up The Plunge for competitive swimming could generate enough revenue for the city to pay off the extra expense in as little as five years.
“There’s a great draw for a masters team at The Plunge,” said Norman Hantzsche. “I have employees who would use the plunge…. They won’t go across town on their lunch hour, they would go to The Plunge.”
Ricardo Davis, a resident who attended the council meeting for another topic, told Richmond Confidential that listening to bulkhead proponents illustrated environmental racism.
“The well-to-do middle-class in Point Richmond want their own pool,” he said.
But council members Tom Butt and Maria T. Viramontes attributed the divide to a generational gap and not to economic or racial disparity. They said it is older people who oppose the bulkhead and young families who support it, citing the breakdown of people who spoke on the project.
Following public comment, Bates said the city doesn’t have the money to invest in the bulkhead and that he doubts anyone would refuse to use The Plunge if the council didn’t approve the project. Vice Mayor Ludmyrna Lopez echoed Bates’ concerns, saying it is important the bond money be distributed equitably throughout the entire city.
“If we added the bulkhead to this list, that means we have to rob Peter to pay Paul,” she said.
But when Viramontes suggested that the city use its reserve funds instead of the park money to pay for the bulkhead, Lopez joined the other council members in supporting the bulkhead. If the city manager can’t figure out a workable alternative to the bond money, Viramontes said, she can’t support the project.
“I can deal with that decision of taking it out of reserve… I’m voting for this because my grandmother swam there,” she said as she choked up with tears.