My View: Civic Pool Repairs May Not Justify Inclusion In Parcel Tax

It made for spectacular headlines in August when the Vanguard first reported that Civic Pool had a substantial leak at over 7500 gallons a day. Moreover, it came out that the city had been aware of the leak for some time and they had argued that it was not just a simple fix.

However, this week, the city staff report argues that the costs for the repair “will not exceed $50,000” and that “sufficient funds are budgeted in the pool equipment replacement fund for FY14/15.”

Staff writes, “Civic Center Pool is in need of repairs to minimize the loss of water from the pool. The City has completed testing to determine the scope of the necessary repairs and plans to proceed with fixing the leaks identified in the inspection reports. The repair work will be completed during the pool’s annual maintenance period, which is currently set for the last two weeks of November. This will enable the City to relocate existing users to other pool locations without disruption.

“Once the repairs are made, staff will then reassess the pool water levels to determine if the leaks to the pool have been mitigated,” staff continues. Staff does warn: “There is a possibility that the proposed maintenance program will not fully solve the leak problem. If that is the case staff will advise the Council and return with alternatives.”

The discovery of the pool leak came at a time when there was a debate brewing on the timing, scope and form of a potential parcel tax to deal with city infrastructure issues.

There had been a sentiment led by Councilmember Brett Lee that pools represented a “nice to have” commodity, rather than a necessity. However, the pool leak discussion had the potential to change that, particularly if repair costs were prohibitive.

Even absent the pool leak discussion, there will be public pressure to address the pools along with the needed road work. Mayor Dan Wolk is one of the leading proponents of such a scheme.

“I do believe that the funding of a pool is critical,” Dan Wolk argued back in June. “I think it’s clear that, just as with our roads, the longer we wait on that, the greater our cost becomes in terms of our band aid measures that we’ll have to put on the pools.

“It’s clear that we’re going to have to invest $7 million on these to refurbish civic and community (pool),” he added. “There’s a strong argument to make… that we really need to re-invest in our parks facilities and specifically our community pool. I think that’s really critical to the heart of this community as much as anything. I think this is a community that is willing to support that – even at a two-thirds level.”

Others, like Councilmember Brett Lee, see it differently, “It’s nice to split the need to have versus nice to have. Road and sidewalk – need to have. Swimming pool upgraded facility – that’s a nice to have.”

Dan Wolk would strongly differ.

“Obviously the roads and bike (paths) and sidewalks are need to have items,” the Mayor Pro Tem stated. “I guess I just don’t see our pools as sort of these niceties that we have in our community. I see them as critical infrastructure. I’m just trying to imagine a community that lacks a civic pool and a community pool.”

This was argument made by Ken Petruzzelli of the Davis Aquatic Masters in a guest Vanguard piece in August. He wrote, “Framing discussion of Davis pools in terms of necessities versus luxuries creates a false dichotomy. Amenities such as pools are central to creating and maintaining community. Amenities make a city an attractive and enjoyable place to live. Given that people typically want to live where they work, civic amenities have never played a greater role in attracting businesses to a city and attracting talent to businesses.”

As Mr. Petruzzelli writes, “In the coming months, as Davis again discusses how to invest money in its civic infrastructure, we hope the public will consider how pools and other amenities enrich our community.”

That has to be part of our discussion, because right now a $50 parcel tax would probably pass and a $100 or $150 parcel tax would likely fail. Right now, the polling shows a $100 parcel tax fails to get to two-thirds, clocking in with 58% support, the same of the sales tax measure, while a $150 parcel tax fails to even get a majority.

The B-modified street, sidewalk and bike path plan calls for us to ramp up spending to the point where we have an average PCI of about 63. In schoolyard terms, that means Davis’ roads would rate a D.

In the short term, Davis has sufficient money through the general fund to put about $4.7 million into road repairs, but that is not ongoing money. We need a funding mechanism.

Now that Davis is set to hire a city manager, the city has to sit down and plan out just what and how it plans to handle Davis’ massive infrastructure needs. Because of polling considerations, I would still argue we need to do this sooner rather than later, so that we can lay out our critical needs to the public.

The relatively low cost for repairs of the pool may take it off the table once again. But that is a more complex assessment than one might originally think.

From a policy standpoint, it is difficult, amid concerns with crumbling parks infrastructure and still unassessed building infrastructure, to put money into pools.

The idea that a $10 million capital project is going to pay for itself in any short-term horizon defies logic. The reason the city closed the Community Pool was not just the repair needs but the inability to pay for basic maintenance costs.

There are political calculations here, as well. The city recognizes it needs to perform a heavy lift to get the parcel tax from the 58% approval level of the Measure O sales tax in June to the two-thirds threshold.

From Dan Wolk’s thinking, including the pool brings in a new base of support for the parcel tax. You have the 500 people in the aquatics community – the parents and other participants in recreational swimming. With all of that you not only have a voting base of support but a group of people with a vested interest in getting out the vote.

But there is a strong downside to that analysis. The presence of the pool in the list of projects on a parcel tax will undermine the city’s strongest argument that this is an emergency measure to deal with the critical needs of roads.

Critics will see the inclusion of pools as a luxury rather than a necessity, especially absent the immediate Civic Pool crisis.

In the end, however, this all comes down to a choice by the electorate – we can save money by cutting amenities and shore up the budget through taxes. At some point, though, the public must decide what it wants this community to look like.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    I want to introduce yet another factor to consider in the conversation over whether pools should be considered community necessities or luxuries. As a doctor, I see the state of the  health and wellness of the members of our community as much a matter of concern as I do the state of our roads. If Davis were located on the ocean or near a large lake, the need for swimming facilities in the form of pools would be greatly lessened. However, we are a land locked community. Many of our citizens either because of personal preference or physical limitations use pools as their major means of physical activity.

    As a doctor, I see the private automobile as one of the least health promoting utilizations of our time. Yet we will be spending millions of dollars on the support of this extremely unhealthy choice for how to get ourselves from one place to another while viewing much more healthy activities as “luxuries”.  I feel that by taking a more holistic view of the wellness of our community, one that includes not only our immediate financial well being but also the immediate and long term health and well being of our individual citizens we would ultimately have created both a healthier and more financially sound community.

    1. Frankly

      That is a slippery slope doctor.   How far do we take it?  Should we also include making healthy food available for residents as part of the charter for the city?

      Pools are a non-essential amenity.  They might be highly valued by some, and we can certainly assess a general public value, but they are luxuries in consideration of our budget.

      If you like amenities like public pools, you better get behind the building of some innovation parks.

      1. Barack Palin

        That is a slippery slope doctor. How far do we take it? Should we also include making healthy food available for residents as part of the charter for the city?

        I was thinking the same thing.  Frankly, not only should healthy food be available but we should have to farm it ourselves in order to get exercise.  We should also have to walk to the river with a bucket for water.

        1. Tia Will


          Well if we did adhere to those suggestions, UCD would not need to be partnering with that exemplar of nutritional excellence , MARS, in order to study high tech food production techniques but could perhaps do what we all know would actually work to feed the world. Promote responsible reproduction ( don’t have kids you can’t feed), stop paying farmers not to grow food, stop paving over farm land so that we can finance all the lovely amenities that we want ( smooth roads for cars being just as much luxuries in my mind as are swimming pools in your), start paying more money to farmers of non edible crops ( tobacco) to grow edible products, and transition to plant based diets. If we did all of these things voluntarily we could stop pulling out our had about “how to feed the world”.


        2. TrueBlueDevil

          Tia, you forgot a few big ones.

          1. Stop subsidizing / requiring / using ethanol derived from corn to be used in cars. My understanding is that every penny rise in the cost of corn – a staple food item – thousands of people die in 3rd world countries. We have plowed under fields that produce food, so that farms can use precious land and water to grow corn for cars, a double hit.

          2. Remove / quit subsidized failed socialist / military juntas.  Socialism fails, look at North Korea, where citizens are smaller than their South Korean brothers.

    2. hpierce

      Streets (and their appurtenant sidewalks), which also carry bicycles and pedestrians, yet you would cut from the improvements for ‘streets’ to fund pools which a few ‘competitive’ folks would love to exclude regular folks from to meet their practice and meet schedules?  Those “competition folks” are the ‘drivers’, and demand their subsidy.  How about we fully fund the pools, and give the ‘athletic/competitive’ swimmers last priority for their use?  That would fit your health model even better.

    3. South of Davis

      Tia wrote:

      > I want to introduce yet another factor to consider in the conversation over whether

      > pools should be considered community necessities or luxuries. As a doctor,

      >I see the state of the  health and wellness of the members of our community as much

      > a matter of concern as I do the state of our roads.

      I was at the Cool Patch Pumpkin patch in Dixon today.  While it was not as bad as the Woodland Wal-Mart (where I rarely see anyone male or female over 12 that weighs less than me) I would estimate that 95% of the adults were overweight and 50%+ were morbidly obese.

      The problem is that just like me all these people can eat a little better, ride their bikes a little and run a few mornings a week, but they don’t and even if we had three new $10mm pool complexes in town I bet not even a single one of these fatties (or even the better educated fatties we have in Davis) would not sign up for a masters program.

      P.S. I think I was the only adult at the pumpkin patch that didn’t have tattoos and I’m thinking that investing in the companies that make tattoo ink may help me put my kids through college…


  2. Dan Carson

    David,  I know the focus of this piece is the pools, but I am curious about the source of information for your claim in this piece that most of the $4.7 million budgeted for road and bike path pavement rehabilitation is one-time money.  That’s not my understanding.  About $3.8 million of the $4.7 million is from the General Fund.  The five year budget projections released last April show the General Fund “base” for these projects staying in place over that entire period.  Who told you the money is one-time?  I welcome any clarification in case I am misunderstanding the situation.

      1. Dan Carson

        I can see the General Fund “base” money continuing each year in the five year projections published in April.   What you have asserted is contrary to an on the record discussion we had at the Finance and Budget Commission a couple months ago about the roads and bike paths maintenance program.  In that meeting, I asked city staff if the $4.7 million shown in the 2014-15 budget would continue in future years.  They said that, with some variation in special funds from year to year, that it would.  You are now telling a different story, though.  Because I may have misunderstood something, it would be helpful if you told us the source of your information that most of the money is one-time.

        1. David Greenwald

          My understanding is that the reason that money was so high, was that they hadn’t let contracts and the money accumulated. Maybe they’ve figured something out, but I’d be surprised if the full $4.7 million is all recurring.

        2. Dan Carson

          Since you still aren’t citing a source for your information, I will follow up with city staff next week and clarify whether the monies are one-time or not.

          1. David Greenwald

            Can’t link it from my ipad but if you look at the parcel tax study session from June, it shows $4.7 for 2014-15 and $1 million afterwards

        3. Dan Carson

          David, it appears that the $1 million annual figure for future city contributions to the rehabilitation program that you referenced in the June 2014 parcel tax presentation comes from the January 2013 Pavement Management Final Report prepared by Nichols Consulting Engineers.  The $1 million a year assumption in that report predates subsequent City Council action to bolster General Fund support for street and bicycle path maintenance, and appears to be inconsistent with the five year spending plan numbers presented to the City Council in April. But you’ve raised an interesting question that warrants clarification, and I will do so and get back to your readers.

          1. David Greenwald

            I still have in my mind that they hadn’t let contracts, but I couldn’t find it when I looked.

  3. Anon

    Bottom line is what 2/3 or more citizens are willing to include in a parcel tax.  Thus far it appears that bike paths, roads and parks are the only thing that would pass muster for most citizens.  Pools won’t, and I suspect renovations to other city buildings won’t either. It might be more appropriate to include in the parcel tax that which will make it supportable by 2/3 of the citizens, i.e. roads, bike paths, parks, and then think about including pools once an innovation park comes on line and is generating enough tax revenue to the general fund to make it feasible to start repairing city infrastructure other than roads, bike paths and parks.  Another possibility is to up the parks tax, which would free up more money in the general fund for various needs including the pools, but probably at the expense of roads and bike paths, which is not what citizens want.

    1. hpierce

      Might be illustrative to look at Civic Center pool use, and the proportion of hours devoted to swim clubs and programs, and how many hours for recreational and personal fitness users.

  4. Ken

    The number of aquatic users is much more than 500. The Davis Aquatic Masters have roughly 550 active members and presently have around 700 members. The Aquadarts have about 1,000 children in their program. In all, and as stated in my commentary “Why Davis Needs to Renovate Its Pools,” more than 2,000 people participate in organized groups, including Davis Aquatic Masters, Davis Aquadarts, Davis Aquastarz, Davis Water Polo Club, and Davis High School’s swim and water polo teams year-round.

    1. WTF


      You forgot the Aquamonsters and individuals who swim for exercise and are not part of an organized program.   My family uses the area pools more frequently than the bike paths which in my veiw are nice to have and not need to have.

  5. dlemongello

    Why does a pool cost $7 million.  Think about that number, it is phenomenally high?  I do however believe we should have functional and maintained pools.  As for the leaky one, if I was in charge of it I would  not add any more water and when it got too low to swim in, then make the repairs, probably having to further lower the water level.  There is a time to step back, even if it inconveniences people, and take responsibility.

    1. hpierce

      Glad you’re not in charge.  Good odds that as the water in the pool went towards zero, the saturated soil pressure would effectively destroy it, or increase significantly the costs of repair/reconstruction.  VERY responsible.

      Usually, you fill a pool with sand if you are going to abandon it, to prevent uplift.

        1. Ken

          The estimated renovation cost for Community Pool is $4 million. The estimated renovation cost for Civic Pool is $3 million. The discussions that we (the aquatic user groups) have had thus far with City staff have focused on the status of the current pools, which includes the leak, the estimated repair/replacement backlog for the current pools, and comparing the annual operating costs of the current pools to estimated annual operating costs for the 50 meter pool. Our next step will look at renovating the current pools and comparing that to the 50 meter pool. At this point, I can’t saw what why the estimated renovation costs are what they are except that, since this is a public contract, it must pay prevailing wage and the renovations must meet ADA and other requirements. Civic Pool and Community Pool were both renovated in the 1980’s. A lot of work that needs to be done would require tearing into the pool structure, into the pool deck, and doing other work that would require permitting and bringing the facilities up to code. When you have to start doing that the costs go way up.

          As for money to pay for repairing the leaks in Civic Pool, the City budgets about $107,000 a year to repair and replace pool equipment. The total average annual cost for all four City facilities is more in the neighborhood of $200,000. Bear in mind this is an average. In some years the City could incur few costs; in other years it may have to replace a big ticket item (like Civic’s heater last year). The repair/replacement fund for the pools currently has about $500,000 available, so there is money available to pay to fix the leaks. In any event, the Staff report (linked to above) does say there is money available to fix the leaks (most of them anyway).

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          1. I would love to see a weekend education “tour” of one of the pools, where everything that is supposedly required, desired, or needed, can be explained in person, along with the estimated cost.

          2. These items could include “nice to have”, “need to have”, etc.

          3. Let’s see how much progress is made fixing the leaks.

          4. If the Masters swimmers are so convinced a 50-meter fiscal money pit (pool) is required, why don’t they start a fundraising drive to help defray costs?

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