Second Thoughts: Competition pool might be a stroke too far
by Jon Mendelson
Feb 01, 2013 | 6322 views | 6 6 comments | 831 831 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thanks to a unanimous City Council vote on Jan. 22, The Surland Cos. will give the city $10 million and 16 acres of land for an aquatics center in exchange for rights to build up to 2,250 homes, as well as a significant financial break on water and sewer costs.

For those who have waited close to a decade for Tracy to build a swim center, the approval was a sweet victory.

But that success could well be tempered with bitterness, because an aquatics center that meets the stated needs of its most ardent supporters is unlikely to materialize any time soon.

The reason lies in City Council history and fiscal reality.

The council has said any aquatics center should not affect the general fund, the city account that pays for police and fire protection as well as other city services and employees.

The imperative is obvious — the general fund has run a deficit for six years, draining reserve money stored up in fatter times. The situation was deemed dire enough that voters passed a special half-cent sales tax in 2010 to shore up revenue. City employees, including public safety officers, made pay and benefit concessions to ease the burden on city coffers.

All of which makes a self-sustaining swim center a must, practically and politically.

Consultant RJM Design Group determined in 2011 that the best way to make a swim center pay for itself on the city’s $13.24 million budget is to build a play area, slides and recreation area — a liquid entertainment center.

Other phases could follow, if the money could be found.

One of the last things that would be built is a pool for athletic competition, as RJM found it was the least profitable part of the project, the proverbial drain at the bottom of the water park.

It just so happens a competition pool has been the No. 1 priority for those who’ve shown the strongest support for the Tracy-Surland developer agreement.

Every child and teen — and most adults — who spoke in favor of the swim center Jan. 22 explicitly stated they supported the developer agreement because competitive swimmers need more places to practice, more opportunities to host hometown meets, more chances to shine in the search for scholarships.

That passionate but relatively narrow constituency pressured the City Council for years until it decided to trade $8.1 million in sewer and water fees for $10 million to put toward a swim center.

It’s probably the best deal the city could have got considering the economic environment. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to lead to a competition pool.

According to RJM, that type of pool alone will cost $7.44 million, not counting annual operation costs. If that figure is accurate, it means the city’s $13 million isn’t enough to build a self-sustaining swim center that includes a competition pool.

The math suggests running a competitive pool will require more money somewhere along the line.

The best hope supporters have is for the City Council to ditch the existing swim center plan, build a competition pool and spend the money to run it, even though the general fund is supposedly off the table.

It’s possible, if only the competition pool is built, that the city could put leftover construction funds into a savings account and use it to pay for a few years of maintenance before another funding source is identified.

Alternatively, the city could seek a private operator that would likely charge market-rate use fees, charge market-rate fees on its own, partner with swim teams as it’s done with youth sports clubs at Legacy Fields, or decide that it’s enough of a citywide priority to commit general fund money after all. (Good luck selling employee unions on that one.)

Economic constraints and political pressure to build a competitive pool aren’t going away any time soon, which gives the council precious little dry ground on which to stand.

The only thing that seems certain is that something is going to give.

Right now, that something looks like it could be swimmers’ competitive pool dreams.

• Second Thoughts is a personal opinion column by editor Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts at
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February 12, 2013
Why always the same few grumpy geezers always complaining about the swimming activities in Tracy and make everyone feel bad about it. If they went swimming in public their man boobs would require them to wear a bra in public. These type of guys walk around at the burning man festival with no under pants and a long wife beater shirt. I told one of them he should try slim fast and this aint woodstock and to put some pants on and he got mad as a bee at me. I thought he was going to need his respirator. He don't know nothing about no swimming pool except if you stand next to him the water feels warmer.
February 07, 2013
When all this talk about putting a water park in Tracy erupted years ago, it was Ives' pet project. There were some of us back then who opposed the building of a water park. I still do. Now that our city gov't has a bunch of "yes" people on the city council it was a no brainer that a watering hole would be authorized. Now it appears that there may be a negative thrown into the batter and it's because the city will never have the funds to support such a water park. This is Ives' legacy since it's his last term as city leader. (and I use that phrase lightly) But it appears that it may come to bite him in the butt. Ives and his cronies have saddled up next to Ellis, and its leader Serpa, since day one. I won't gloat over this because in the end it hurts the residents of Tracy and me. I will only say that when it comes to Ives' last day in office this project will go down as a black eye for him.
February 01, 2013
Shame on Les, Ives, Maciel & Company for using kids as shills to push Ellis. Why didn't any one of our illustrious council members come clean and tell the kids and their parents that they may not get a competition pool at last week's meeting because the first phase of the swim center doesn't even envision a pool? But then again, it's not about the kids - it's about the Almighty $$$$$.
February 05, 2013
They were just using the kids to justify the development. The kids will get no competition pool. This council wont even commit to building the swim center at Ellis. These guys cant even keep Dr. Powers Pool open. As the article says the alleged 10 million dollar swim center contribution was only 1.9 million after the free infrastructure giveaway.

They tax us an additional one-half cent sales tax and then give away 8.1 million to Surland. what a joke.
February 06, 2013
Where are all the council supporters on this article. Not much can be said about the fact that the council sat there listened to all those kids that wanted a competition pool and never told those kids they wernt getting the competition pool in the first phase of the swim center if ever. This Council and the Surland Company have no integrity. Its so bad no one can even spin it.
February 06, 2013
jarbuckle, the silence is deafening and speaks volumes.

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