About a dozen pool users came to a Tuesday evening city council work session to ask for help. They were looking ahead for support for a November 2012 pools ballot measure, but also wanted answers to hard questions about cost estimates included in the failed 2010 pools ballot measure.
They left without firm support for a new ballot measure and without answers about how the costs of the old one were formulated. Watch the full video of the special session on the city's website here.
The June 2010 vote on Measure C garnered 62 percent, but not the two-thirds it needed to win. The measure was to raise $22 million for: building a new therapeutic warm pool — the current one located at is to be demolished in January 2012; refurbishing Willard Pool, which was shut down after the measure lost; and upgrading and pools.
Pools advocates told the council that the ballot measure would have had a better chance of winning had the projected cost estimates been lower. They say the city has dodged their questions on specifics around how non-construction costs, known as “soft” costs, were determined. The Berkeley Pools Campaign says on its website that the city’s estimate at 45 percent of the project costs is “bloated.”
Speaking to the council, Robert Collier, Berkeley Pools Campaign co-chair, addressed the question of soft costs, comparing Berkeley’s estimate to both the Berkeley and Albany school districts and the Berkeley Public libraries, where soft cost estimates for capital projects were considerably less.
“Why they were so much higher... has not been fully explained,” Collier said. “We can’t evaluate a new potential bond measure or even put the issue to the voters in a public opinion poll if we don’t get a grasp on the cost issues, a matter concerning not just the pools community, but the voters and tax payers at large.”
In a Sept. 26 letter to the mayor and council, Collier and other leaders of the Berkeley Pools Campaign are more explicit. They reviewed soft-cost formulas used by Berkeley libraries and Albany and Berkeley schools: Albany pools is budgeting 17.9 percent for soft costs; the Berkeley Unified School District budgeted an average of 21.8 percent for soft costs for its projects over $1 million; the libraries’ Measure FF budgeted 36.5 percent.
The letter concluded that if the city had used these formulas, “Measure C would have shrunk from its $22.6 million price tag to...$17.4 million (libraries formula); $15.5 million (BUSD formula), and $15 million (Albany formula). If Measure C had cost that much less, it could have easily closed its 4.5 percent gap to reach 66.7 percent for victory.”
Defending the city’s estimate, Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Director William Rogers said the city used the same formula to determine soft costs for the pools measure as it does for all city projects. (City libraries are governed separately.)
He listed a number of them, without detailing the cost estimated for each. They included: design consultants, surveys, geotechnical reports, utility costs, hazardous material testing and abatement, design management, construction management, permits, and more.
“We’re within industry standards,” he said, noting the standard is between 34 and 45 percent. “We’re at the higher end of that industry standard,” he conceded.
He went on to explain that in Berkeley there are higher costs, in part, because of the active public participation of the citizenry. “We rightfully place a high value on public input and a community process at every stage of the project,” he said, adding that often leads to changes resulting in additional design, engineering, consultant and staff time. “It may be that the construction drawings need to be redrawn...[or] permits that are required,” he said. “The work may trigger an environmental review process that wasn’t necessary before.”
Rogers went on to say that other jurisdictions don’t include in their estimates all the costs that Berkeley is including, such as city staff time. “They’re basically not charging all the costs that are attributable to the project,” he said.
After the meeting, Collier told Patch that he’s still waiting to see specifics on how the city came to estimate the 45 percent soft costs. (Patch requested this information from city staff; it was not received by deadline.) In its Sept. 26 letter to the mayor and council, the Berkeley Pools Campaign also asked the council to agendize the pools issue for future meetings “to start the necessary planning and research for a potential pools ballot measure....” Councilmembers did not suggest a date.