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City Council reconsiders pool divider

on December 3, 2009

Several dozen people pressed the City Council Tuesday into reconsidering its support for a moveable pool wall at the Plunge. The council decided two weeks ago to dip into the city’s reserves to fund the $350,000 wall. It would divide the pool in half: one section for competitive lap swimming, and one for therapeutic exercise.

The council’s debate over the bulkhead stretches back to a meeting on Nov. 17, when families with young children living near Point Richmond advocated for a multipurpose swimming pool at the Plunge.  During Tuesday’s meeting, opponents railed at council members, questioning the city’s financial priorities and accusing the council of favoring Point Richmond residents. After more than two hours of public outrage, the council agreed to re-examine the decision to fund the wall at a future meeting. That date hasn’t been set yet.

Nathaniel Bates, the only councilmember to vote against the bulkhead, argued that the city doesn’t have the money to spare.  “Even if we do find the money to pay for it,” Bates said, “we have to ask what programs will suffer.”

There to support Bates’ point were dozens of young soccer players and parents from the Richmond Sol league. Carrying photos of dilapidated soccer fields, they asked the council to consider spending the money to improve the fields, instead of on a pool wall.

“We want to let the city know that hundreds of Richmond children are using inadequate soccer fields that have no restrooms, no field lights, and little grass.” Diego Garcia, 33, the president of Richmond Sol said, “How can they spend that much money in a time like this?”

Seniors who use paratransit, a transportation system for the elderly, criticized the council for misplacing priorities during an economic recession. “Bus drivers might get laid off and crucial public services are getting cut,” said Millie Cleveland. “How can you take it out of taxpayer’s emergency funds for a bulkhead that would only benefit a few?”

Volunteers of Save the Plunge Trust said the bulkhead is an inefficient use of money and pool.

Opponents criticized the bulkhead for more than two hours

Opponents criticized the bulkhead for more than two hours

The Plunge was built in 1926 and was a popular indoor pool in Point Richmond before it was closed in 2001 for renovation. Save the Plunge Trust was established to raise funds to restore the swimming pool to its original usage.

Rosemary Corbin, former Mayor of Richmond and supporter of Save the Plunge Trust said the bulkhead wouldn’t create a truly multipurpose pool.

The standard temperature for lap swimming is 78 or 79 degrees. But in therapeutic aquatic classes and swimming lessons, water is usually set at 84 degrees. Since the pool can only be set at one temperature, the water can’t be an ideal temperature for both activities.

In addition, placing the bulkhead in the middle of the pool would reduce the area suitable for therapeutic classes. The deep end is 7 feet and the shallow end is 2.5 feet. With a wall in the middle where the water is 4 feet, people would stand too far out of the water, which opponents argued would be inadequate for water resistance exercises.

“Adding the bulkhead would make the whole pool inferior, both the area for competitive lanes and the area for therapeutic and handicap swimming,” said Corbin.

Proponents say the bulkhead is an investment that can bring in extra revenue. “Multiple activities at the same time is the only way pools can survive,” said Jonathan Mayer, a resident in Point Richmond and a vocal supporter of the bulkhead. “The budget to restore the Plunge is $8 million.  So that’s only a couple percent of their budget.  What’s the big deal?“

Not every supporter of Save the Plunge Trust expressed concern about the bulkhead. “I love the Plunge,” said Mindy Pines. “I don’t think the Plunge should just be for seniors. The more people that use it the better.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who was absent for the previous vote, said she’s against the bulkhead after hearing all the arguments that evening.

Council members Jeff Ritterman and María Viramontes stood firm in their support for the bulkhead. They see their vote as a support for opening the pool for more generations to use it. Viramontes said, “This is about the ability to plan for the future while still solving urgent problems.”

Other members, Jim Rogers and Ludmyrna Lopez requested more information and are reconsidering their vote.

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