City Council members butted heads for an hour Monday evening before voting 4-1 to ask the Gilroy Board of Education to explore what – if anything at all – the school district can contribute to help save the defunct pool at South Valley Middle School.
The discussion about whether to restore the dilapidated SVMS pool – and whose responsibility it is to save – has bounced back and forth between Council and the Gilroy Unified School District for almost a year.
The debate will continue at least to Jan. 7, when Council will revisit the discussion. The deferment is intended to give to give GUSD the opportunity to discuss how much they could contribute to the City’s $447,600 estimated price tag to fix and operate the pool for one year.
“We want them to say ‘we’re willing to do xyz’ and we will decide from there,” said outgoing Mayor Al Pinheiro, although he won’t be around for Council’s final vote.
The new estimate triples the original $147,000 estimate presented to Council in April. The higher price tag came from a November report from City staff after they enlisted City Facilities Superintendent Rick Brandini to work with GUSD to provide a detailed cost estimate.
A $79,500 chunk of the repair cost includes bringing the pool, constructed in 1958, up to par with standards set forth by Americans with Disabilities Act. This includes remodeling the men’s restrooms, deck area, parking lots and various other repairs.
The new cost estimate “flabbergasted” Councilman Bob Dillon, who called it “outrageous” and made it clear he would not be voting to save the pool at any significant expense to the Council.
Nonetheless, he voted yes on the motion to allow GUSD to discuss it before coming back to Council with an offer.
“I can’t look at this (price) and do anything close to approving it,” Dillon said.
But Dillon will not have the chance to ultimately vote down paying for the pool. He is one Council meeting away from retirement from the dais after serving one term.
Councilman Peter Arellano cast the lone opposing vote on the motion to shelf the issue and return to it at a later time. Arellano wanted Council to commit to a lump of money that the city can provide for the project right away.
“Quit playing with it. Just do it,” Arellano said.
Councilman Peter Leroe-Munoz, while supportive of fixing the pool, cautioned against promising money to the school district before the district came to back to them with a more finalized offer.
“We’re not saying that this project is not going to happen. What we are saying is that we want to gather all the information we can. When we say yes to certain projects without knowing the full cost, in the future we have to say no to other projects,” he argued. “We have to be very clear that we want to save as much money as possible before we foreclose future options.”
Leroe-Munoz’ comment annoyed Arellano, who wanted Council to “make a stand” for children by committing money to the project Monday.
“Close off what future options? I don’t say ‘no’ to programs for kids. Other people say ‘no.’ I don’t say ‘no’ to homeless shelters. Other people say ‘no,” Arellano said. “You’re either for it or against it.”
“I’m against it,” Dillon said, interrupting Arellano during his spiel.
“Let me talk. Let me talk,” Arellano said, roused that Dillon interrupted him.
Dillon grumbled as Arellano continued to say he was “appalled” with his fellow Council members for not moving forward with the pool faster.
Pinheiro quieted the two.
“Come on,” he said, pounding his gavel.
The SVMS pool has been nonoperational for the past two summers, according to City staff. Once one-time repairs are made, staff estimates the pool’s annual operational cost will hover around $140,000.
Council decided to let the Board of Education discuss the latest cost estimate before the city allocates any funds to the project, citing possible additional funds that the district may have in their budget because of the passing of Proposition 30.
Proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown and known as the “Schools & Local Public Safety Protection Act,” Prop 30 was passed by 53 percent of California voters in the November election and will help stave off massive cuts to public education. The measure will temporarily increase the personal income tax on the state’s taxpayers who earn more than $250,000 by up to 3 percent for seven years, and increase the sales tax by 0.25 percent for four years.
Prior to Prop 30’s passage, GUSD was facing $8 million in budget cuts. The measure saved GUSD from having to cut $4.7 million.
Still, “it’s $4.7 million out of an $8 million cut,” Superintendent Debbie Flores recently told the Dispatch. “This didn’t fix our entire budget problem.”
In April, GUSD agreed to contribute $82,000 to repairing the pool. Council members are curious if that number has since changed.
School Board Trustee Mark Good said GUSD has told Council repeatedly that they can only afford to contribute $82,000 to fix the pool.
“We’re facing multi-million of dollars in cuts, even after Prop 30 passed. We’ve made it clear we can’t keep it,” Good said. “The fact that Council sent it back to us again seems ridiculous. As far as I’m concerned, this is a nonstarter.”
Five community members spoke up during the meeting and asked Council to pay the pool repairs, hammering similar positions touted by the group headlined by GUSD board member Domingo Payne for months.
“In recent years we have had a lot of resources poured into a certain side of the city. Let’s not forget the east side,” said Rebecca Perez, a 2000 graduate of SVMS. “I really urge you to consider instead of looking at the numbers, look at the children.”
Gilroy mother of two, Melissa Avila-Carroll asked Council to work “in tandem” with GUSD to get the pool up and running again.
“We do need to look at it as a partnership between the City, the Council and the school board. Dollars invested are going to have a huge intangible payoff,” Avila-Carroll said.
Councilwoman Cat Tucker was indignant that the City’s cost estimate tallied in at three times the amount Council had tentatively planned on.
“When we asked about the cost of upgrading the pool, I didn’t think in my mind that would include new bathrooms, and these other things,” Tucker said.
City Manager Tom Haglund said the City needs to look at the entire facility and what it might cost to address any deficiencies at the pool.
“To just look at the pool itself would not have been a thorough analysis as Council requested,” he said.
Haglund did say that whoever ends up paying for the necessary upgrades – the City or the school district – is another matter.
Mayor Elect Don Gage sat in the audience during the discussion.
Council agreed to explore the topic again during their Jan. 7 meeting, after GUSD has had a chance to discuss what they can contribute and report back to Council.
Councilmen Perry Woodward and Dion Bracco were absent from Monday’s meeting.
Pinheiro capped off the discussion for the evening, reminding community members that Council’s “hearts are big, but our wallets are small,” and that they will do what they can to come to an agreement with GUSD.