Oct 17 2020

OPINION: Support Measure UU for a New Pool

In this country and in this city, in particular, there is a significant discrepancy between the amount of money spent on private vs. public improvements. The current situation—crumbling public infrastructure—is the result of years of the community’s inability to fully commit to supporting our public facilities. I personally see Measure UU to rebuild the Piedmont Community Pool first and foremost as a simple question: whether we as a community value a pool or not?

City public improvements such as pools, parks, courts, tracks, and trails are the last remaining vestiges of what can be considered the commons—outdoor places that play a central role in both creating community and providing for the simple, nearby enjoyment of the outdoors. In an urban context, we would do well to not let our lives be limited to the experience of individual spaces, such as our cars or our homes. If we let our lives be connected only virtually by digital technologies we lose out in the richness of experience that our world has to offer. During this time of COVID, we have seen first-hand the division and mistrust, indeed the disintegration of the commons that virtual communities have fostered. A public pool in Piedmont will greatly enhance our City’s commons.

Public financing for a public improvement is appropriate. Does that mean that the City needs to have bids before agreeing on the Measure UU? Of course not. Do you go out and get bids for a bathroom remodel before you decide as a household that you need a new bathroom? No. You assess the problem, agree on the need for the improvement, limit the budget, and then hire the appropriate designers, contractors and other experts to bring your ideas to reality.

Cost, the desire to control costs, the existence of cost overruns, can always be brought up on any capital improvement project. It can always be used to shoot down an initiative, but this approach will not get us closer to a community pool. If the community can first agree on the need for a new pool to replace the now defunct facility, then Measure UU authorizes up to $19.5 million which will be overseen by a committee and issued based on the final design. Setting a bond limit now and having each household pay for the bond issue is appropriate. To be fair, I’m biased, and it is up to each of us to decide what to do with our money, particularly when it comes to benefiting the greater community. Yet, I would submit that to construct a beautiful, new, public pool facility in Piedmont in return for a bond issue that costs less than the price of a Starbucks Venti coffee per day, per household is an affordable and not unreasonable price for Piedmont residents to bear.

The cost of public work is fundamentally different and higher than the cost of private work. The restrictions (for example pay rates), qualifications (for example must have done similar public scale projects for at least 5 years), requirements (for example must be bonded to a certain level) placed on the contractors have made this type of project buildable by only a small handful of well-qualified, large, and yes expensive construction firms. They can and will deliver – but there is and, indeed there should be, a cost to that. The City’s stringent requirements (ensure the project is close to zero net energy, make no dust, no noise during school hours, protect our kids when they walk by the project) result in costs that are nearly all avoidable on a private project.

However, the project will have a cost estimator who will work in conjunction with the City, the pool committee, the design team and the contractor to carefully review priorities, and expenses. Every attempt should be made to value engineer the project given the ‘fixed’ budget as defined by the bond measure. One can haggle the details of cost, and certainly the City should hire (an additional expense!) a project manager who is vigilant about controlling costs, but now is not the time to haggle these details when the pool design has not even been finalized.

We are all concerned about global warming, acting locally to reach goals of carbon neutrality for Piedmont. Pools have negative environmental impacts, as do many activities we enjoy. However, to begin to mitigate these impacts, we have to begin to collaborate more as a community and less as individuals competing for limited resources. If we can get to a place where we can agree on the benefits of a pool, then let’s work together to drive down the costs both environmental and fiscal to a point where they balance the benefits to us all as a community.

A single public pool has less of environmental impact than hundreds of private pools when compared to the relative community benefit. A new pool also can be designed with appropriate sustainable technology to heat, filter and re-cycle the water to adequately meet the needs of users. Solar thermal panels could be used to heat or pre-heat the pool water. Perhaps hybrid photovoltaic/thermal systems installed on the bottom of the pool could be employed that capture solar radiation for pool heat or facility power. Another consideration is the use a shallow water storage tank that can retain solar heat and be used to warm the main pool in the early mornings. The ancillary facilities can be net-zero buildings with photovoltaic solar panels, as well as passive heating and cooling. Again, if we can come together as a community around common goals for a sustainable pool, solutions can be developed.

To the extent that the pool will benefit both Piedmont residents and our neighbors in Oakland and surrounding communities, I think that we are fortunate to be able to share our resources for the benefit of the greater good. Without a doubt, Piedmont residents benefit from such community resources as Lake Merritt, the Oakland Museum, the Rose Garden, and currently the public pools in Lafayette, Alameda and Berkeley albeit a long drive from home. We will not improve our community or the world by walling ourselves off from others.

Our current decrepit and undersized pool does not properly meet the needs of the Piedmont community and our schools. Furthermore, the pool does not meet health and safety standards, in particular current ADA or Universal Design requirements. The outdated facility simply can’t accommodate the community demand from individuals, families and teams. A new pool will provide for this currently unmet demand with a proper Piedmont aquatics facility.

Please join me in support of Measure UU. We can come together as a community and replace this deteriorated aquatics facility with a new pool for future generations to enjoy.

John Ware, Piedmont Resident, Architect, Engineer

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

16 Responses to “OPINION: Support Measure UU for a New Pool”

  1. Well said!

  2. John mentions two green technologies – underwater solar panels and a shallow water tank – to make the pool more sustainable. A national expert hired by the city on green tech for pools did not recommend either. His report showed that a 3000 sq ft PV array provided 10% of facility electricity (pool and buildings) and a 600 sq ft solar water heater provided 50% of necessary heating. Natural gas will provide the rest. When you consider the design triples the size of the pools, that’s a huge increase in GHG emissions.

    Mountainview is an example of how a community can build a sustainable pool – design it from day 1. That 25 x 30 pool is scaled so a sufficiently large PV array on site can generate all the needed power for the pool. No natural gas. Piedmont’s 25 x 43 is designed so that lap swimming and school teams can occur simultaneously. That stretch design takes up needed space for PV array and guarantees reliance on natural gas. Scaling down to 25 x 30 could make a sustainable pool and incur considerable savings.

    The sustainability goals for the pool are spelled out in the city’s Climate Action Plan – all new city facilities need to be carbon neutral by 2050. To make that happen, the pool has to be built for the future, not to accommodate current interests. If UU passes, that design could happen, but judging by how little consideration to sustainability went into the first draft, voters are right to be skeptical.

  3. Garrett, I know you to be very fair-minded, but some anti-UU folks are making inaccurate assumptions that somehow, the pool is destined to not incorporate the best available green infrastructure. The tentative pool plans were reviewed and given preliminary approval BEFORE the adoption of the Climate Action Plan. The CAP requires its review in the planning of city public projects. I am confident that our environmentally concerned City Council will do what is needed to make the new pool, if passed, as sustainable as is feasible. Why would they not?

  4. Thanks Mike. Approved before CAP 2.0 but not before the goal of 80% GHG reduction by 2050. That GHG reduction goal was set some time ago and in any event, what analysis has been done of green tech for the pool shows a substantial increase in GHG will occur. The current pool represents over half of city GHG emissions so the proposed tripling in size really should have been evaluated in the context of the 2050 goal. That assessment can happen after the election and the design changed accordingly, whether UU passes or not, but I think it would be more honest to do so before so voters know whether they are getting a sustainable pool.

  5. Since the CARB says that 47% of the state’s GHG emissions come from the transportation sector, i. e. the internal combustion engine, much of the discussion of the best single-site solution is at best, nibbling around the edges of the greater climate change problem. It may be too close to the election for the Council to formally declare their commitment to the greenest feasible alternative, but there seems to be little reason for them not to do so. The yet to be done, CEQA analysis will provide opportunities for evaluating pool heating and electricity needs and alternatives.

  6. There are positives and negatives concerning Measure UU. At the end of the day, on balance, a new Pool is desirable and the Pool bond Measure UU is a progressive taxation which I support. However I doubt John Ware’s hope that a new Piedmont pool will benefit those outside of Piedmont as the single day use fees for the old pool were exorbitant and there has been no discussion of reducing fees. The previously high use fees will likely be even higher and are a barrier to outside use and even to Piedmont fixed income seniors who will be paying for the new pool.

  7. Are we hypocrites about meeting the IPCC goal of limiting the effect of climate change by building a pool with three times more water than the existing one? The 2016 study for the proposed pool did not take into account the City Climate Action Plan. I will support Measure UU if its proponents commit to instal on their houses enough solar panels to meet the energy required to operate the pool.
    Garrett, there was a climate action plan in place in 2016, published in March 2010. Refer to: https://piedmont.ca.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_13659739/File/Service/Climate%20Action%20Plan/Piedmont_CAP_Final.pdf

    I am afraid that Measure UU is a blank check as the 2016 design is made irrelevant by CAP 2.0.

  8. Yes, Bernard, there are two Climate Action Plan plans. I recall the first plan calling for a 15% reduction by 2030. Now we have CAP 2.0 and that goal is 50% by 2030, 80% by 2050. The urgency to hit those targets has only increased.

    I agree – UU proponents should come forward now with ideas about how to reduce or offset the obvious large GHG increase the new facility will produce. Mountainview designed its 25 x 30 pool with adequate PV array and heat pumps to plausibly make that lap pool carbon neutral – no natural gas.

    Proponents claim the pool is yet to be designed but will proponents agree to scale back the pool to meet CAP 2.0?

  9. Garrett:
    Current pool energy bill per year is $60,000. At $1.61 per therm it uses 37,267 therms per year. One therm equals 29.3 kWh. Hence 37,267 therms equals 1,091,925 kWh. One house with 8 panels produces 4,800 kWh. Therefore 227 houses would generate enough energy for the current pool. Assume that through a good design, the new pool uses twice as much energy even though it is three times bigger. Hence twice as many houses: 454. Given the factor three between electric energy and natural gas energy to generate heat, 454/3 or about 150 households would be enough.
    I think we could quickly organize a campaign saying that we will support UU if 150 households commit to instal solar panels on their home by election day.

  10. Another way to look at it, is to say that the City future pool must not use more than $30,000 of natural gas in 2030 (50% less as per Climate Action Plan). Based on my previous assumptions, this means that 150*(90/120) or about 110 households would have to commit to install solar panels and let that energy by subtracted from the City carbon footprint.

  11. Very interesting Bernard. Both the lap pool and recreational pool triple in size so using the current bill may be an underestimate. Plus the building is much larger as well. But in the spirit of achieving the 2050 target, this is a good idea. From my recollection, 110 is roughly the number of annual memberships sold by the pool – these are users of the pool year-round so it would be appropriate for them to contribute to a carbon offset for the pool. Not everyone could afford that however. I think a simpler way is to scale back the size of the pools and enlarge the on-site solar array. I think this could be done if pool hours were used efficiently.

  12. I submitted the following to the Piedmont Post, an opinion much more positive than the one I submitted a couple of days ago. I hope the Post will make the substitution.

    Subject: Measure UU and the City Climate Action Plan (CAB)

    The November 2016 pool study on which Measure UU  is based did not take into account the City CAB. The CAB calls for a reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) by 50% in the year 2035 (100% by 2050). The 2016 study calls for a pool three times larger than the existing one. I show below that such a larger pool could meet the CAB goal if about 150 households committed to installing solar panels on their houses and to assign the energy generated to the City. Here is why.

    The current pool energy bill per year is $60,000. At $1.61 per therm it uses 37,267 therms per year. One therm equals 29.3 kWh. Hence 37,267 therms equals 1,091,925 kWh. Let us assume that because of a better design, the proposed pool would need twice rather than three times as much heat energy. One house with 8 panels produces 4,800 kWh. Therefore 454 houses would generate enough electricity to heat the new pool. Given the efficiency factor of three between electric energy and natural gas to generate heat , 454/3 or about 150 houses would be enough (this holds whether the pool uses a natural gas heat exchanger or heat pumps, as natural gas power plants are about 33% efficient to convert natural gas into electricity due to Carnot). The City would be ahead by 37,267 therms per year, thereby also making progress towards the long term 2050 CAB goal.

    As far as I understand in this forum and others, the proponents of Measure UU  have committed to constrain the size of the pool so that it meets the City CAB, and to only issue the proportion of the Measure UU bond adjusted to the pool size compatible with the CAB. Under these conditions, I support Measure UU. I for sure do not want to mislead the community. But I do think that the calculations are correct as the proposed number of houses is certainly in the right order of magnitude.

    Bernard Pech
    Piedmont Resident

  13. Bernard- unless I’ve missed it, no proponent has made those claims in your final paragraph. Where do you find the commitment to constrain the pool to comply with the Climate Action Plan? I’ve only heard of commitments to fund raise for the pool, perhaps to stretch it to 50 meters? The concept of carbon offsets to compensate for the increase in GHG from the new pool is interesting but less probable (and effective) than simply scaling back the design.

  14. Garrett, now that you have raised the CAP issue in this forum and others, it is hard to believe that the City Council is not going to agree that the pool design must meet the CAP, and also the 2035 and 2050 State goals. If not, it would undermine the Reach Codes effort, and I would certainly give them a very hard time.
    I do believe that our mayor committed to issue only the amount of the bond needed to construct a pool.
    As a wealthy City, we must lead by examples. Yes it is true that climate change is a global problem and that in 2019 only 3.6% of energy consumed in the world came from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass, 85.2% from fossil fuels, and 11.2% from hydro and nuclear. Hence, Piedmont’s effort in building a pool that will meet the 2035 and 2050 goals will have a minuscule impact on the climate. But we all would be hypocrites if we found a way not to lead by example.
    The fact that the Post published my back of the envelope calculation will also help the climate cause, even if I am mistaken and wrong by more than an order of magnitude.

  15. I believe the CAP requires Council to pass an ordinance requiring that all new City facilities to be carbon neutral by 2050. Council hasn’t passed that ordinance and one wonders if they approve a pool design before they do will the pool have to comply? Would it be grandfathered? They could pass the ordinance this coming Monday before the election but I doubt that will happen. UU could have made a stronger commitment to the CAP but didn’t. The fact that the city is tripling it’s largest GHG source without any reference to the CAP is pretty telling. I raise it but no proponent does.

    Private parties could fund raise for more funds to expand the pool to 50 meters. There is no prohibition that only $20M be spent on the pool.

    Yes the pool is a small contributor to global GHG. But the principle is what matters.

  16. I got access to the January and February 2020 utility bills for natural gas. My back of the envelope calculation on the number of houses that would have to commit to instal solar panels and to assign the accounting of that green energy to the City is off because the City pays a much lower rate for natural gas as I do as a homeowner: $.42 to $.24 rather than $1.61 per therm that I used in the calculation. As a result, the number is likely to be around 600. I will be able to make a better estimation once I have access to the 2019 utility bills and the exact number of therms consumed by the current pool each year.

Leave a Comment