City Manager Leon Churchill will ask the City Council at the public meeting Tuesday, Sept. 17, to authorize a memorandum of understanding with Wild Rivers, a Southern California theme park operator, to build an water park in Tracy.
“Early October of 2012 that City Council directed me and the administration to investigate public-private alternatives to an aquatic center,” Churchill said. “That was the interest to see if it’s possible, and now the answer that we are bringing back is it’s possible, so let’s keep going.”
Such an agreement worries the former chairman of the Tracy Tomorrow & Beyond aquatic facility subcommittee, Michel Bazinet.
“The concern that we have, this is an amusement park operator,” Bazinet said.
Bazinet’s committee was directed by the council in 2005 to research options for a public aquatics park. The committee compiled the needs identified through three public meetings.
“One of them is recreational needs. We need a place for our kids to do something when they come to Tracy,” Bazinet said. “Then there was competition stuff. So there is a need basically for a venue or amenity where they would be able to practice. The pools that they had were not competition class.”
Sandi Taylor, a member of Bazinet’s committee in 2005, initially got involved because her two children wanted to swim competitively.
“We were just a group of parents that really believed we needed a swim center in Tracy. Dr. Powers Park, Joe Wilson Pool, underserved the community the day it was built,” Taylor said. “We went to Stockton three times a week, so my kids could have the opportunity to play. My kids wanted to swim. Where did we go? Outside Tracy.”
Bazinet and Taylor said the City Council embraced the idea of public swim facilities when the subcommittee issued its findings Sept. 26, 2005.
“They fully stood behind the work not only the community did but the city did,” Taylor said, “because the city partnered with the community on this, as well as TUSD representatives, as well as council.”
At the City Council meeting Jan. 17, 2006, Les Serpa and the Surland Cos. offered $10 million and 15 acres of the proposed Ellis development on which to build an aquatics center. In exchange, Surland would get early access to homebuilding permits starting in 2012.
At the City Council meeting Feb 6, 2007, the city agreed to pay $1.2 million in partnership with Tracy Unified School District to build a 50-meter competition pool at West High School, Pinkie Phillips Aquatics Center.
At the City Council meeting March 2, 2010, the council instructed the city staff to begin designing a 20-acre facility with a 50-meter competition pool, a separate water recreation space and a grass area. The City Council, during a Jan 4, 2011, meeting, approved the $15,736,445 first phase of the swim center, which included only the recreation area. Planning stopped in February 2011 when Judge Lesley Holland halted development of the Ellis project.
Now, Churchill said financial realities are forcing the city to consider other options.
“In my interpretation, I can see that can be difficult, because we’ve had issues with hangar rates. We’ve had issues with wastewater rates. We’ve had issues with developer fees,” the city manager said.
Churchill believes a for-profit entity, such as Wild Rivers, could run a water attraction better than the city.
“That’s what those companies exist for,” he said. “If successful, there’s the possibility the whole facility could get built once it begins. The public option was looking at a phased process. So there’s a sense that a private venture could enable a complete project to be built.”
Bazinet has a different interpretation of what Wild Rivers would offer Tracy residents.
“They build and operate amusement parks, and amusement parks don’t have pools,” Bazinet said. “Certainly not competition pools.”
Taylor is frustrated by what appears to her to be an attempt by the city staff to circumvent the public will.
“Through this whole process, council has given clear direction to what the needs the unmet wants are of the community,” Taylor said. “At every step of the way, it really feels like the city (staff) continues to push back on that. They continue to look for other opportunities to not do it.”
The city manager doesn’t dispute Taylor’s accusation.
“Come on. How can we be enthusiastic over something that appears extremely difficult for local government to own and operate?” Churchill said. “If people are saying it’s got to be done this way, they’re also suggesting they’re willing to pay for it.”
Bazinet and Taylor insist their research shows Tracy residents want a community place to play and train, not a for-profit park.
The closing of the Tracy Plunge in 1985 and the condemning of Joe Wilson Pool at Dr. Powers Park in 2010 are key indicators for Churchill.
“The demise of those public facilities should give a clue about the city’s ability to operate them,” the city manager said. “This is also a barometer for this City Council.”
The City Council will consider an agreement with Wild Rivers during the regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 333 Civic Center Plaza.
•Contact Michael Ellis Langley at email@example.com or 830-4231.