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Final results on Measure A from March ballot measure and previous articles

Final results announced March 23 show pool measure captured needed two-thirds majority

Final results show El Cerrito's Measure A captured the needed two-thirds majority, with not much to spare. City officials got the good news March 23, though official certification of the election results isn't due until March 27.

The measure won 67 percent to 33 percent, with 5,918 votes in favor and 2,913 opposed.

The measure will raise funds for repair of the swimming pool and three smaller projects.

"I'm looking forward to the opportunity and the challenges we face now that the voters have given us the go-ahead.," said Councilwoman Janet Abelson.

The next steps for backers, said Park and Recreation Commissioner Brenda Navellier, are to celebrate and begin planning the pool repairs.

The Park and Recreation Commission has formed a subcommittee to recommend to the council how best to proceed with the design process of the swimming pool renovation.

"It is our intention to get the process started immediately since the process will take some time to complete," said Navellier. "We want the citizens to see some result from the measure as soon as possible. There will be a chance for public input, though the commission held a series of pubilc meetings last summer to develop the master plan. We now take the master plan as our guideline and move forward!"

Councilman Larry Damon said right now the city has a "rough concept plan with an equally rough estimate of costs." Although it will take some time for funds from the measure to reach city coffers, Damon said the city should go ahead and use general fund reserves to get started on the design.

" In my opinion, we should capture the momentum," he said. "Since Measure A funding is now guaranteed, why not move forward to be positioned for construction next winter?"

Votes tallied on election night showed 5,570 or 66.7 percent in favor and 2,783 or 33.3 percent opposed. But the county Elections Office still had to count provisional ballots and absentee ballots that were turned in at any county precinct on election day.

A consultant team hired by the city last year said the pool facility contains numerous deficiences, code violations and public health hazards.

The measure, placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the council, creates a parcel tax, under which most homeowners will pay the same rate, spread over 20 years. The maximum tax would be $58.46 annually per single-family home. The maximum per multifamily residential unit would be $45, and for non-residential property, $410 an acre.

The council put the measure on the ballot only after numerous meetings at which it hashed over details in an attempt to create a package that would capture the elusive two-thirds majority.

In an attempt to win over some critics, the council added a clause to the measure to set aside funds each year in a dedicated maintenance and capital improvement fund.

The pro Measure A campaign drew together a broad spectrum of organizations and individuals who often find themselves on opposing sides of issues. In the weeks before the election, city residents received phone calls and mailed and hand delivered material in support of the measure, while little was heard from opponents of the measure.

*  Measure A tally from Contra Costa County elections office

* City attorney's impartial analysis

* State election results

Council, with new members, votes to put pool repair measure on March ballot at Nov. 29 meeting

Audience members applaud council approval of the ballot measure

Janet Abelson and Kathie Perka took their places on the City Council Nov. 29 and within the hour had voted with their three colleagues to place a measure on the March ballot to raise funds for repair of the swimming pool and three smaller projects.

The measure approved by the council is for a parcel tax, under which most homeowners would pay the same rate, spread over 20 years. The maximum tax would be $58.46 annually per single-family home. The maximum per multifamily residential unit would be $45, and for non-residential property, $410 an acre.

The measure would require that for the duration of the tax the city set aside in a dedicated maintenance and capital improvement fund an amount equal to the property transfer taxes collected by the city each year minus $250,000.

Some of the toughest critics of earlier versions spoke in support on Nov. 29, leaving council members hopeful the measure has the support needed to get the required two-thirds vote at the polls. The unanimous council vote was met with applause from the audience.

Abelson said from her experience working on a previous ballot measure she knows that a high level of community support will be needed for the tax to pass.

"What I'm seeing here tonight is that kind of support and I'm very heartened by that," she said.

"We all know the swimming pool is an important asset to the community," said Perka. If it were to close, she said, it would be a daily reminder of a city's decline.

Perka added that the $5.3 million maximum of the parcel tax "is just an estimate. I don't want us to stop here."

The estimates of the pool repair costs are based on a general "master plan." Council members have talked about getting more precise plans and costs for the pool before voters go to the polls to decide the fate of the measure.

In addition, the measure includes a clause stating that it is the council's desire that a portion of the project cost be raised through grants and fund-raising and that any money raised through these efforts be used to reduce the amount or term of the tax

The matter before the council Nov. 29 was one it has struggled with at its past four meetings. The five members on the council before the Nov. 29 final vote agreed a tax is needed to raise funds to repair the pool, which has numerous deficiencies, code violations and public health hazards. What the council members have struggled with is how to write the measure to make it most likely to win voter support.

Among those speaking in favor of the final wording was Steve Magyary of the El Cerrito Citizens Alliance, who praised the council for its willingness to listen to critics of earlier versions. "I hope this is a step in ending the divisiveness in the city," he said.

Councilman Larry Damon called the wording an "elegant compromise" and said hearing a member of the Alliance speak in its favor is "truly a watershed event."

Although it took the council five meetings to get the measure written and passed, Damon said, "The easy part is putting it on the ballot. The hard work (of getting the measure passed by voters) is ahead of us."

While the establishment of a fund to set aside money each year for capital improvement won over many critics, some concern was expressed that setting up such a fund would restrict the council in the future from paying other needed expenses.

City Manager Gary Pokorny, however, assured the council that earmarking some funds for capital improvements would not affect city operations "in any major kind of way." While it will not solve all of the city's capital improvement needs, he said, it will make a significant contribution.

According to a report prepared by Pokorny for the Nov. 29 meeting, the property transfer tax has yielded an average of $525,400 per year since its inception in 1992. The amount has ranged from $377,000 in 1992-93 to a high of $839,000 in 1998-99.

Had the proposed set-aside been in place during the past seven years, according to the report, an average $275,000 a year - approximately 2 percent of the city's annual budget -- would have been placed in the fund.

If passed by voters, the measure will fund:

* Reconstruction of the swim center at an estimated cost of $4.9 million;

* Disabled access and restroom renovations at Harding, Huber and Pointsett park clubhouses at an estimated cost of $140,000;

* Restoration of the Canyon Trail clubhouse for use as either an arts center or as a general-purpose clubhouse and childcare facility at a cost of $250,000.

It includes a clause allowing qualifying residents who are 62 or older, blind or disabled to avoid or get a break on the tax (based on the Senior Citizen Property Tax Postponement Law and the Gonzales-Deukmejian-Petris Senior Citizen Property Tax Assistance Law. )

The ballot question will read:

Shall the City of El Cerrito impose a special tax in the maximum yearly amount of $58.46 per single family residential unit, and comparable amounts for multifamily and nonresidential property, collected with the property tax, for up to 20 years, to renovate the Swim Center, rehabilitate Canyon Trail Clubhouse, restore restrooms at Huber, Poinsett and Harding Parks and establish a dedicated fund with yearly and mandatory contributions from the general fund to maintain and replace city capital facilities?

Council action on ballot measure:

Oct. 18 -- Council indicates support for an "ad valorem" approach under which homeowner rates are based on assessed value of the home and for the bond measure to be spread over 10 years.

Nov. 1 -- Citing the strain of the election and saying they needed more information, Brusatori and Damon voted against moving ahead with the ad valorum tax suggested at the Oct. 18 meeting. Because an ad valorem tax would have required a two-thirds majority vote of the council, that vote failed.

Nov. 15 -- After hearing residents' concerns with the previous proposal, the council voted unanimously for a parcel tax, which charges most homeowners the same rate, and for a 20-year term. The 20-year term was favored because it would lower the annual bill and spread the cost over future as well as current property owners. Opponents of the ad valorem tax noted the great discrepancy between assessed values of homes purchased before and after Proposition 13.

Nov. 22 -- At the urging of a citizens group that might otherwise oppose the ballot measure, the council majority agreed to add an amendment to establish a dedicated maintenance and capital improvement fund. A second vote is needed for the decision to be final.

Nov. 29 -- With the two new members seated, the council votes unanimously to reaffirm the measure as approved Nov. 22.

Janet Abelson, left, and Kathie Perka listen to speakers at their first meeting on the council.

See articles below for background:

City Council revises ballot measure at Nov. 22 meeting; new council will need to approve new version as well

Council also agrees to reacquire property near Moeser

Faced with the threat of organized opposition to the ballot measure, the City Council amended its proposed measure at its meeting Nov. 22 on a 3-2 vote. The amendment would require the city to set aside funds over the duration of the tax for maintenance and repair of such things as streets and public buildings.

The revision means yet another vote on the ballot measure, which would fund repair of the city pool and four smaller projects, will need to be taken by the City Council. The next vote is set for Nov. 29 and will be taken by a different set of council members. By then, Jane Bartke and Norman La Force, the only members who voted against amending the measure, will be off the council. They will be replaced by newly elected Janet Abelson and Kathie Perka.

The council had approve an ordinance Nov. 15 to put a measure on the March 7, 2000 ballot that would raise up to $5.3 million for the pool and other improvements if approved by at least two-thirds of the city's voters.

The proposal selected by the council at the Nov. 15 meeting was for a parcel tax, under which most homeowners would pay the same rate, spread over 20 years. The maximum tax would be $58.46 annually per single-family home. The maximum per multifamily residential unit would be $45, and for non-residential property, $410 an acre.

The Nov. 22 revisions would not change those terms, but would add a clause that the city establish a dedicated maintenance and capital improvement fund in the amount equal to the property transfer taxes collected by the city each year minus $250,000.

Mayor Gina Brusatori estimated that amount would end up being about $150,000 a year. She noted that the tax fluctuates considerably from year to year, however, and said that is one of the reasons it is more appropriate to put the money in a special fund, rather than use it for more constant costs such as salaries.

The added wording was chosen carefully. While the suggestion has been made in past discussions that the property transfer taxes be earmarked for capital improvements, legally those taxes must go into the general fund. In choosing the wording, the council was apparently acting on the advice of City Attorney Howard Stern. A memo written by Stern referring to possible language for the amendment was given to the council and was referred to several times at the Nov. 22 meeting but was not made available to the public. Stern told the Wire after the meeting that the memo was being kept confidential based on attorney-client privilege.

The matter was on the council's agenda as a second reading, normally a fairly uncontroversial move for a council since it is only reaffirming what it voted on previously.

But several residents spoke, including Steve Magyary of the El Cerrito Citizens Alliance. Magyary called the proposal adopted Nov. 15 "fatally flawed" and said it would need revision to gain support of the group. He estimated the city has another $25 million to $30 million of pending capital improvement work and said something needs to be done to assure voters they won't again end up in the same bind they now face in coming up with the money for the pool. Magyary then outlined the proposal to set aside funds each year to improve the city's infrastructure, using the property transfer tax as an "index mechanism."

Mayor Gina Brusatori, who had previously raised the idea of using property transfer taxes for capital improvements , said the addition of the clause will show voters that the city is addressing other needs as well, not just the pool.

Brusatori called the money involved "a very small amount" and noted that another tax measure a few years ago, Measure H, was actively opposed by the alliance and failed.

La Force and Bartke argued that the council was voting on the clause without adequate information, and voted against the revised ordinance.

"I think the concept of a maintenance fund is good," Bartke said, but she said the time to address that is when the council is approving the city's budget. She said it could be difficult for the council in the future to budget for essential services with a lot of funds labeled for specific purposes.

La Force said the council was violating the state's Brown Act by voting on the amendment without it having been included in the agenda and packet for public review.

He also called the wording of the amendment "a sham" because it is essentially using the property transfer tax for a specific purpose, rather than for the general fund as required by law. That, he said, puts the city in danger of legal action and misleads the public.

Additionally, La Force said, "I'm not sure doing this is really going to end opposition to this measure."

Councilman Mark Friedman agreed it would have been better to have more complete figures but voted for the amended ordinance.

"Any organized opposition to a tax measure makes it difficult to get a two-thirds vote," Friedman said.

He called for city staff to bring back a detailed report for the next meeting and said the council could always change its mind before the second approval based on that information.

Councilman Larry Damon said in past budgeting the city has made salaries and services a priority. While those matters are important, he said, "It's time to reprioritize and find a better balance. What you're seeing is the first of several steps."

Damon called the request to establish the fund a "modest request" by potential opponents of the measure.

While La Force and Bartke expressed concern about changing the measure at the last moment, Damon said "the whole purpose of the second reading" is to re-evaluate and refine what the council has done.

The measure would fund:

* Reconstruction of the swim center at an estimated cost of $4.9 million;

* Disabled access and restroom renovations at Harding, Huber and Pointsett park clubhouses at an estimated cost of $140,000;

* Restoration of the Canyon Trail clubhouse for use as either an arts center or as a general-purpose clubhouse and childcare facility at a cost of $250,000.

The estimates of the pool repair costs are based on a general "master plan." Council members, led by Larry Damon, talked at the Nov. 15 meeting of getting more precise plans and costs for the pool before voters go to the polls to decide the fate of the measure.

The measure also includes a clause stating that it is the council's desire that a portion of the project cost be raised through grants and fund-raising and that any money raised through these efforts be used to reduce the amount or term of the tax.

It also includes a clause allowing qualifying residents who are 62 or older, blind or disabled to avoid or get a break on the tax (based on the Senior Citizen Property Tax Postponement Law and the Gonzales-Deukmejian-Petris Senior Citizen Property Tax Assistance Law. )

In other business, the council accepted the "donation" of a 2.76 acre property between Moeser Lane and the PG&E transmission lines near Seaview Avenue in exchange for the city reimbursing the owner about $70,000.

The city sold the parcel to the Dwayne A. Bartels Trust in May 1997. The trust intended to subdivide the property for residential development. But during the recent General Plan process residents expressed disappointment that the city had sold the property, and negotiations were undertaken to return of the property to the city.

Under the proposal approved by the council, the land would be donated back to the city to be designated as publicly owned open space. The city, in exchange, must return the $35,000 the trust has paid toward purchase of the land, plus application fees, expenses from soil work and engineering costs, and taxes, for a total of $68,639.62.

See article below for more detail on pool reconstruction.

Pool master plan OKed by council

The City Council Sept. 13 gave its unanimous approval to a master plan for renovating the pool center and appointed a task force to look into ways of funding the $4.9 million project.

Council and staff talked of placing a measure on the March ballot to pay for the extensive repair and reconstruction. Council gave the task force an Oct. 18 deadline for reporting back to the council so that the city can meet an early December deadline for getting a funding measure on the March ballot.

The task force is to look at just what form that measure should take and whether it should include money for other projects such as street improvements.

The council decided the task force should be made up of council members Norman La Force and Larry Damon and one member each from the Park and Recreation Commission and Committee of the Whole, and one pool supporter.

The task force met jointly with the Park and Recreation Commission Sept. 29. The task force, officially know as the Public Facilities Financing Task Force, also met Oct. 1, and Oct. 7.

Pool supporters packed the council chambers Sept. 13, and Damon said council members had received many phone calls on the issue as well.

One of the main concerns of residents who spoke and council members alike was putting together a funding proposal that will garner the needed two-thirds majority to pass.

"If it can't pass in El Cerrito, what's the point?" asked resident Susan Wehrle.

But most agreed the pool is in dire need of work.

"I'm surprised it's still holding water," remarked Councilwoman Jane Bartke.

"We probably could be shut down tomorrow" on health code violations alone, said Jan Bridges, a park and recreation commissioner.

Planning Commissioner Janet Abelson told the council its violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act could be enough to shut the pool as well.

El Cerrito's swimming complex was built in 1962.

The renovation plan calls for an enlarged 25-yard-by-25-meter swimming pool, new pool center building in the existing location, new pump room, new entry kiosk and locker rooms, a renovated wading/training pool, renovated putting green, new concessions building, new lifeguard station, and new pool deck.

The city hired a consultant team in July 1999 to analyze and redesign the pool.

The team found numerous deficiencies, code violations and public health hazards including:

* Swimming and wading pool gutters are consistently flooded;

* Swimming pool shallow-end access is deficient;

* Pool filtering systems are inefficient, and drain into storm sewer;

* Main pool floor contours are inappropriate;

* Pool light junction boxes are flush with deck;

* Pool decks are deteriorating;

* Pool pump room is not ventilated properly, the ceiling is chipping and falling, and the ramp is too steep and slippery;

* Many areas of the locker rooms and swim center building are deteriorating;

* Accessibility to the building is deficient;

* Number of sinks and toilets fall below current standards;

* Walls, roof and ceiling show mold and mildew due to poor ventilation and roof leaks;

* Roof is in very poor condition;

* Asbestos insulation on pipes is a potential public safety hazard;

* Parking lot entrance is too small for two-way traffic;

* Number of disabled parking stalls is inadequate.

Incorporating input from a July 30 all-day public workshop, the consultant prepared proposals for renovation. The plan unanimously approved by the Park and Recreation Commission Sept. 1 would cost slightly more than $4.9 million.

The plan retains the structurally sound aspects of the facility and replaces those structures deemed to be less salvageable, while rebuilding a facility that meets all current health, safety and building codes, according to a report from City Manager Gary Pokorny.

In adopting the master plan, council members noted that details of the reconstruction can be revised as the project moves forward.


Run dates: 2000-03-27 - 2000-04-27
 


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