Things didn’t go so swimmingly for proponents of a pool project Tuesday night.
The City Council rejected a proposal for a costly aquatic facility in a three to two vote.
In January, the of the project, with council members then voting three to two to move forward with the design of the new facility.
But increased budget uncertainty and concerns from community members convinced Councilwoman Pat Gacoscos to change her vote, swinging the decision. Her action brought cheers from the crowd gathered at the meeting, who hailed her as their .
“My expectation at first was to build a pool with a lower construction cost and spend part of the money to improve our existing parks,” Gacoscos said in front of the crowded council chambers. “It’s really hard to approve this expensive project at this time without thinking about the effect to our budget and to our parks that need improvements also. I cannot support the resolution at this time.”
The proposed facility – which included an outdoor lap pool, an indoor therapeutic pool and a renovation of Liberty Park – would have cost about $3.8 million to construct. The majority of that cost, $3.5 million, would have been paid for through Measure WW dollars, a 2008 East Bay Regional Park District bond the city must spend by 2018 for park and recreation projects. The remainder would have been paid for through existing project funds.
However, the annual maintenance cost was estimated at anywhere from $82,000 to $117,000, which would come from the city’s general fund, according to a staff report.
Councilwoman Emily Duncan, who voted against the plan in January, reiterated her concerns, stating that would have a significant impact on the city’s budget.
If the agency closes, the city would lose five employees paid for through redevelopment project funds, including two , two Youth Violence Prevention and Intervention Program counselors and an Economic Development coordinator. The positions would either need to be eliminated or paid for through the city’s general fund.
“Let’s look at the budget first,” Duncan said, adding that she wouldn’t commit to any additional operating costs while still uncertain of what cuts will need to be made. “It’s a no-brainer to me.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, city staff prepared a report listing the pros and cons of the project.
Among its benefits, the new structure — an addition to the — would have been the first and only city-owned aquatic facility and would attract more users. Construction costs are also lower than in previous years. Both points were highlighted by Mayor Mark Green, who has advocated for all sports programs in the city and noted his desire to have a city-owned pool for many years.
Not having a pool was “the largest gap in the recreation panorama in Union City,” Green said. “We do not own a public pool, that is the absolute truth.”
The idea was placed in the city's master plan in 1999, he said.
“We are actually improving the health of this city, not splashing around,” he said, noting the various recreation programs that would have included youth and senior activities.
Opposing council members and concerned residents brought up a number of issues against the idea, pointing out that the members-only facility would not benefit the greater community and that the Sports Center already receives a $250,000 subsidy from the city.
Deputy City Manager Tony Acosta said that the Sports Center’s expenditures range from $650,000 to $700,000 while its revenues range between $400,000 to $450,000.
“Your concerns are all very legitimate, but we feel there is a market and a need for these programs,” Acosta said. “We don’t run programs unless they are adequately subscribed, meaning we won’t hold a program unless we break even.”
Voters also approved to increase the city’s general revenues; the temporary tax will last only four years.
“It may not be the wisest financial decision to take money from a short-term tax that voters paid to protect public safety,” Ellis said. “When measure AA goes away, we have to be able to sustain our services or else we cut back again.”
Council member Jim Navarro stood in solidarity with Mayor Green, though he said he wanted to see a veterans' memorial completed at with the Measure WW funds as well.
Former council member Manny Fernandez, representing the League of Filipino-American Voters, urged the city to use a portion of the funds to build a monument and walkway at the park, but it wasn't enough to sway Navarro.
“I am supporting this project because I feel its good for our city and it's good for our residents,” Navarro said. Navarro received jeers from the opposing attendees, who were asked to settle down and be courteous.
In the end, Gacoscos turned the decision around, shutting down the project, much to the mayor’s dismay and to the opposition’s delight.
“This is a major victory,” Elizabeth Ames said following the meeting.
Ames, a former planning commissioner and environmental advocate, is the chair of the Saves Our Hills campaign, one of several groups that helped to gather signatures and petition against the proposal.
The Police Officers Association, League of Filipino-American Veterans and several neighborhood watch organizations opposed the project
“I’m glad to see the system works,” said Mike Souza, a retired Union City Fire Department battalion chief. “Individuals can actually make a difference.”