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Emma Hood pools could reopen next week

Submitted by on 1, October 28, 2010 – 4:50 am18 Comments

Photo by Jack Boeger

Alameda school district leaders said Wednesday that one of the two swim centers they abruptly shuttered on October 15 could reopen by the middle of next week. One district official said he believes the Emma Hood Swim Center could reopen by next Wednesday.

The news came after a three-hour meeting with county environmental health officials that included Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker.

“It sounds like it’s just a paperwork thing,” school board trustee Trish Hererra Spencer said of the work that needs to be done to get Emma Hood reopened.

The district’s chief business officer, Robert Shemwell, said additional fixes may be needed at Encinal Swim Center and that those pools will reopen at two to three weeks at the earliest.

“That’s a little bit more extensive of a drain job,” Shemwell, who credited the district’s consultant with helping to speed the process, said.

He said a committee will be set up to ensure long-term fixes to the pools’ other physical plant issues – which include problems with the pools’ filtration systems – will get made. Spencer said she thinks a nonprofit could be set up to run the pools, similar to the organizations that manage other youth sports in Alameda.

The school district closed both pools after learning they didn’t comply with recently passed state and federal laws that govern pool drain safety. Swimmers were furious about the closures and the district’s failure to keep them in the loop and plan for the problems they would cause. But district officials said the safety issues posed by the pools, and the massive fines they could face if county officials discovered they weren’t complying with the laws, led to the swift closures.

They said they didn’t learn of the compliance issues until October 12, when city officials shared a fax from the county saying the drain work they had done didn’t meet county standards.

The school district owns the pools but the city maintains them, and they have been the county’s point of contact for maintenance issues like the drain covers that were to be installed. The county environmental health department informed city staffers in December 2008 that new drain covers would need to be installed on the pools, and they wrote again on July 1 to say pools that didn’t comply should be shut down.

A county inspector told the city to close down the Encinal Swim Center after a routine inspection on July 13, inspection records collected by a local swimmer show, but the pools were apparently never closed. The pools at Emma Hood were inspected three months earlier, so a formal closure order was not issued for those, records showed.

Dozens of teen and adult swimmers told the board Tuesday that swimming is a critical part of the youths’ education and that it provides an important path to college and job opportunities. And they explained how the pools’ closure – which has pushed them all over the East Bay for practices – has made it more difficult for them to keep up on homework and sleep.

Artie Cortez said he’ll use the life lessons he learned swimming to prepare for becoming a paramedic. “As much as textbooks prepared me for this job, the lessons I learned came from this city’s aquatic programs. If you close these pools, these are lessons that they’ll never have a chance to learn,” said Cortez, waving to the youths in the audience.

Some swimmers also questioned the district’s decision to bring on an out-of-town consultant to work on the pool issues, saying they’re concerned the consultant could slow efforts to reopen the pools. And Spencer said she wants local people who’ve offered to take a look at the pools for free to have a crack at the job.

“This isn’t rocket science. It’s plumbing,” swimmer and civil engineer Rod Smith said.

But district officials said they’ve told their consultant, Aquatic Design Group, that getting the pools reopened is their first priority. And they said they want to make sure long-term fixes needed to maintain the 1950s-era pools, which have endured a hodgepodge of fixes over the years, also get made.

“I don’t want this board to be in a position where the (immediate) problem is fixed, but then in two months there’s another problem,” Vital said.

School board trustee Tracy Jensen experienced frustration with the lack of communication from the city about the compliance issues.

“I had 10 minutes to make a decision that impacted thousands of people in Alameda,” she said at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, which was attended by an overflow crowd of swimmers.

Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant acknowledged the communication problem between the district and city and said city officials are trying to fix it, and that they are also trying to get a handle on what’s contained in the county’s inspection reports. Spencer said a city staffer signed off on the county’s July 13 order that Encinal Swim Center be closed.

Shemwell said Wednesday that the county will now include the school district in its communication loop.

Both Mayor Beverly Johnson and Superintendent Kirsten Vital said Tuesday they’re trying to get the pools reopened.

“We’re fully committed to working with you on a path to getting the pools reopened as soon as possible,” Johnson said.


  • The Acquatics Fan website is crediting Lena Tam, Marie Gilmore and Rob Bonta for getting the County to react so quickly. Apparently at least Tam and Gilmore reached out to Lai-Bitker and were able to get the County to react more speedily.

    Also, hat-tip to Trish Spencer, who apparently dug up the documents that showed that it was the City’s responsibility to handle the pools issues thus clarifying who needed to clear it up.

  • David Howard says:

    Wow, it took all three of them – Tam, Bonta and Gilmore – to get the County on the phone? Does that make each one 1/3rd efficient as anyone else?

    Note that Alice Lai-Bitker has endorsed the SunCal Slate (Tam, Bonta and Gilmore) for City Council and Mayor, and one of her staffers, Shawn Wilson, works for Alliance Strategies, which is a campaign consulting firm on hire to both Bonta and Tam. (See their campaign filings.) Wilson’s apparent partner in the firm, Royce Kelley, is vice-chair of the Alameda County Democratic party central committee, which coincidentally endorsed the SunCal slate.

    And just who, exactly, runs the Aquatics Fan website, which conveniently credits the SunCal Slate with getting the County to react? Anybody can set up a blog, give credit to one’s favored candidates, and then run around on other blogs talking about it. Very Fox news-like.

    • David,

      Jack Boeger runs the Aquatics Fan website. He is also the person who set up the America’s Cup website for Alameda and, I believe, the Alameda Point Info website.

      Let me also say that I am personally offended to see you attacking Jack in this way. He is perhaps one of the most honest, decent people I have had the privilege to meet in the years I have run this news site. He’s poured a lot of his own time into Aquatics Fan and the other sites he’s run, I think out of nothing more than a genuine love for this community and a desire to keep people informed.

  • dontaro sugiyama says:

    Again, David’s rant begs the question. If comments are going to be moderated, why allow personal and unsubstantiated attacks? Kinda defeats the purpose of moderation, no?

  • david b urton says:

    Notice that it took only David Howard to try and obfuscate things and get things wrong. Does that mean he’s 100% more wrong than anyone else?

    Note that none of the Action Alameda slate had anything to do with getting things done on this issue.

    And just who, exactly, runs the Action Alameda site, which will conveniently not give credit to anyone who got the County to act? Anybody can set up a blog, slander one’s political enemies, and then run around on other people’s blogs talking about it. Very Fox News like.

    Funny how you can turn that around.

  • Ani Dimusheva says:

    Both JKW and David Howard drew extreme conclusions. It’s dangerous for an independent thinker to say anything these days for fear they would either be misused or hammered. But good for you Jack.

  • Jack Boeger says:

    Wow!! Thanks Michele for the ultra-kind words.

    For myself (and 100’s of others in the aquatics community) this is a nonpartisan issue and certainly has nothing to do with Suncal. I contacted all of the politicians and press I could to think of and the response was impressive.

    At the info meeting last Wednesday, Doug deHaan, Frank Matarrese, Jean Sweeney, and Rob Bonta all made it. I know Doug and Frank were definitely trying to help us out on the city side, which has been helpful because this was a communication breakdown more than anything else. I’m certain they were part of the solution.

    Mr. Bonta stood in the back and listened and learned. How do I know this? Because I went over and talked to him. He understood what the problem was and he wanted to help us find water (short term) and re-open the pools (medium term.) He helped pull in Tam and Marie who called/emailed me and knew who to reach (Alice) which never would have occurred to me. Getting AUSD, ARPD, and the County Health together P*R*O*N*T*O was absolutely key and is proving successful. What’s not to like? Let’s give credit where credit is due.

    Beverly Johnson and Ann Marie Gallant played their helpful roles. So did Trish Spencer who took a lot of time to meet with us and follow up. And then there is the cast of 100’s — high school swimmers and water polo players, Islanders, Alagators, masters swimmers, parents, coaches, alumni…. the press who came to the meetings and wrote them up (Michele and Eve)… and who am I forgetting? Hell, even the school board… who despite my criticism did manage to hire a consultant who is managing to get our pools re-opened.

    I am fond of saying that I am allergic to conspiracy theories. I think there are a lot of people serving a lot of interests that sometime align and sometimes clash. Sometimes we all do good work and sometimes we screw up. I know I can be a real knucklehead. But most problems (such as the pool closures) are simply the result of bad/miscommunication. Proper use of the internet should improve this, not be method of slamming each other around.

    Again, I do not represent the larger aquatics community and I am not passing out endorsements. I’m relating what happened the best I can and I think that we should give credit where credit is due.

    Now… I hope the high school water polo teams are kicking some butt today at Contra Costa College so we can see them in the final rounds at Berkeley H.S. this weekend. Go Hornets! Go Jets!

  • Lauren Do says:

    Ani: What “extreme conclusion” did JKW draw in his comment?

  • Ani Dimusheva says:

    Jack gave credit to more people than JKW would have you know. JKW seems to have one eye closed.

  • Lauren Do says:

    Ani: How is that an “extreme conclusion” though? JKW pointed out that on the County level, those folks helped to expedite the process and he gave credit to Trish Spencer for finding the documents that proved, conclusively, that the pool maintenance was the City’s responsibility.

    I don’t think that anyone would argue that Jack B. has been a cheerleader for Marie Gilmore, Lena Tam, or Rob Bonta, so when he characterizes their support thusly, it’s a fairly notable item:

    A HUGE THANK YOU to Lena Tam, Marie Gilmore, and Rob Bonta for working together to get Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker involved. I think it’s important to understand that they listened, understood the problem, thought of a solution, and acted quickly to make this happen while working together (and not wasting time duplicating their efforts.) I am personally impressed with their responsiveness, thoughtfulness, and follow-through.

    While attending meetings is laudable, in this case actions do speak louder than words.

  • David Howard says:

    Oh, puh-leaze! You can hardly accuse me of attacking Jack B. when I didn’t even know that it was he running the blog. I quickly perused the site, and didn’t see any attribution to the author. And in any event, what I wrote was hardly an attack. This sounds like a case of describing as a personal attack anything that one disagrees with or dislikes, something all too common in Alameda.

    As a matter of fact, despite our past (and pending) disagreements, I hold no ill will towards Jack B. and learned only today that Jack is an avid swimmer. I would be willing to apologize to Jack for what Michele falsely called “an attack” on him, except that I don’t think it was an attack and it wasn’t directed at Jack in any event.

    As for Action Alameda News – look at the Masthead page, which identifies the regular writers and contributors.

  • frank martin says:

    I’m sure the kids don’t give a crap about which politicos did this or that. They are happy the pool is open and they can swim.

    Maybe the adults could learn something.

  • david b urton says:

    David H. – Your mistake, as often seems to be the case, was seeing nefarious motives behind things when there is no need, and it is that for which an apology should be forthcoming. That was the point of my post.

    To Michele and everyone else – For my part I apologize to Michele for being part of distracting the discussion from what is great news. Thanks to Jack B. for his great work, thanks to the kids for being patient with the adults, and thanks to everyone who helped get things on track to get the pools reopened. Go Hornets! Go Jets!

  • Jack Boeger says:

    Speaking of Hornets… Varsity men defeated Piedmont 14-4 and Varsity women defeated Berkeley 5-3 today in first round water polo district champs. Second round tomorrow.

  • Jack Boeger says:

    The Hornets boys won again and play for 1st place division champs later today in Berkeley. The Hornets girls play for 3rd place. Unfortunately the Jets didn’t advance but they play this morning.


  • Jack Boeger says:

    I am happy to report that the Hornet men won their division 2nd year in a row. DYNASTY!! Lady Hornets placed 4th. Great games. Will be posting story at aquaticsfan. This is especially sweet after what they all went through with pool closures. Very indicative of how determined and resourceful these kids are. All of Alameda should be proud of them.

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