Protesters give pool issue CPR

Protesters plead with the City Council to save the pool at South Valley Middle School.

More than 60 people showered City Council with pleas to keep the pool at South Valley Middle School open during their regular meeting Monday night.

Students touted signs with slogans like “Save our pool and you will rule,” while 14 people from the community made speeches, all echoing similar positions.

Gilroy resident Mary Yates said she was sad when she heard that negotiations couldn’t be worked out between the City and Gilroy Unified School District to save the pool, but her sadness grew to infuriation when she learned that Council spent $1.3 million on other midterm budget expenditures during their May 21 meeting.

“Basically the stuff you’re spending it all on really only benefits very few individuals rather than the whole community,” Yates said. “I think you need to revisit the spending of that $1.3 million and rethink saving the pool.”

Eastside resident Jesus Becerra painted a grim picture of life for eastside children now that the SVMS pool is marked for closure: With the absence of the pool, there’s a park, drugs and gangs.

“You keep looking at the cost? What is the cost going to be when the kids get in the trouble? Saving the pool is an easy choice,” Becerra said.

Gilroy resident Rochelle Arellano was met with heartfelt applause from the audience when she asked Council to “invest in all aspects of our community, before you decide to pull the plug on this pool.”

The city estimates that the SVMS pool needs $147,000 in one-time repairs, in addition to funding for ongoing operating costs of $140,585. Fixing the pool and keeping it open would cost around $300,000. The city rejected the school district’s request to shoulder all of these costs in late April, putting to rest any glimmer of hope that the pool could be saved – until school board member Dom Payne organized this protest to Council.

Later during the meeting, after most of the community members who came to protest had left, Mayor Al Pinheiro got worked up when Councilman Peter Arellano suggested that Council should revisit the idea of keeping the pool open during their next Council meeting.

“We’ve had this conversation,” Pinheiro said, skeptical of whether council should re-open a tired issue just because “50 people or whatever” showed up to protest.

“And all of a sudden we’re back here today as this is completely new, as if we haven’t discussed this,” he continued, his voice rising. “If anyone should be looking at this fully, it should be the school board.”

Pinheiro expressed irritation that his Council wanted to re-open the issue; he sees it as a dead-end discussion.

Councilwoman Cat Tucker disagreed with Pinheiro, saying that Council has not fully discussed the request to pay for the pool in its entirety.

“We as a Council have not had this discussion,” Tucker said, requesting that Council vote on whether to fully cover repairs for the pool.

“Yes we have,” Pinheiro said, interrupting Tucker.

“No, the last discussion we had was whether we would pay for half,” Tucker said. “Let’s have the discussion so we can lay this to rest once and for all. If there are four votes to go forward, there are four votes to go forward,” she said.

City Administrator Tom Haglund brought up “practical concerns” that he has voiced to Council in the past – namely the challenge of hiring and training enough lifeguards to keep the pool open.

After a 25-minute discussion between Council members with conflicting opinions on what to do about the pool, two things were established: Council will discuss the pool at their July 23 regular meeting; and even if they decide to cut a check to keep the pool open, there’s no way it could be repaired in time for use this summer.

Councilman Perry Woodward and Councilman Bob Dillon were absent from the meeting.

Council says yes to smoking ban in parks

On a 4-1 vote, Council approved an ordinance that will ban smoking in public parks except in designated areas.

Councilman Dion Bracco voted against the ordinance, saying “it’s a waste of money.”

The ban excludes Gilroy Golf Course, Gilroy Gardens (which adheres to its own smoking code) and Christmas Hill Park during the Garlic Festival.

Arellano, a doctor at Kaiser Permanente, pushed against these exceptions, vying for 100 percent smoke-free parks with no designated smoking areas, as he said the city should go “all or nothing” when it comes to public health.

“If you want us to go all or nothing, I say let’s let everyone smoke everywhere,” Tucker shot back. “We’re trying to make a compromise regarding all the citizens of this community.”

The ban won’t take effect until after city staff presents Council with a resolution of the ordinance they will vote to approve during their next regular meeting on June 18.

The cost to implement the ordinance (putting up signs in all city parks) is covered by a $21,000 grant from the Santa Clara County to create anti-smoking initiatives and to educate people on the dangers of smoking, which represents a slice of the $6.98 million of federal stimulus money the county received in 2010 for anti-smoking awareness and measures.

Also during Monday’s meeting

• Council approved a 60-unit residential project known as the “Eleventh Street Commons” near Gilroy Platinum Theater on the corner of Monterey and Eleventh streets on a 5-0 vote.

• Council voted 5-0 to approve a two-year contract that gives 2 percent raises each year for all union police force in Gilroy, which was agreed on by City staff and the Police Officers Association last month.

• During a special presentation, the Gilroy Unified School District board asked Council to consider putting a .25 percent to 1 percent joint sales tax measure on the November ballot to help rescue GUSD from financial peril.

Despite skepticism from some Council members, Council agreed to discuss the matter further and scheduled a special meeting with GUSD on July 17 to delve into the possibility of initiating the sales tax. Council also put the item on their agenda for their July 9 meeting.

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