OCEANSIDE — After local demonstrations and public outcry, the Oceanside City Council decided to keep the Brooks Street Swim Center open without reducing operations as the El Corazon Aquatics Center nears its grand opening this summer.
Earlier in February, the Oceanside City Council was supposed to vote on the operations plan for the new El Corazon Aquatics Center. Instead, the council pushed approval of the operations plan until later in February and asked staff to return with information on what the potential cost savings would be if Brooks Street pool were to close and its funds deferred to El Corazon Aquatics Center operations.
At the Feb. 3 meeting, Councilmembers Peter Weiss and Chris Rodriguez voiced their concerns regarding the new pool’s budgeted $1.66 million in expenses and only $895,000 in revenues expected for its first year of operation.
Staff came back to the Feb. 24 council meeting with four possible options: close the Brooks Street pool down completely; close the pool but continue to operate its surf camp and paddling programs; keep the pool open but reduce its operations to seasonally throughout the summer, or keep the pool open and operating like usual while also moving forward with opening the new El Corazon Aquatics Center.
Council chose the fourth option — keeping Brooks Street open while going forward with El Corazon — in a 4-1 vote.
Mayor Esther Sanchez was opposed to the suggestion of closing the Brooks Street pool from the beginning. She called the pool “a very critical resource” that the city needs along with the new aquatic center.
“It is something that is definitely needed even with the aquatics center,” Sanchez said.
Historically, Brooks Street pool has serviced senior citizens, Oceanside High School’s swim and water polo teams, and the low-income families of District 1. At the Feb. 3 meeting, Sanchez said closing the Brooks Street pool to operate El Corazon would look like “taking from the poor and giving to the rich.”
Weiss, who had originally suggested staff look into the numbers for possibly closing the pool, said he was comfortable with keeping both the Brooks Street pool open and moving forward with El Corazon after staff had assured him there were enough funds for both. He noted however that he was still concerned about the city spending into deficit with this decision.
“I would hope that if that were the case the same people who have spoken to us about saving all these programs are willing to talk to us about what they’re willing to reduce,” Weiss said.
Newest Councilmember Kori Jensen, who represents the district where Brooks Street pool is located, said she would still support potentially closing the pool seasonally if there is a financial deficit down the road.
“I would hate to see the Aquatics Center take away from any other resources that we have that the community depends on,” Jensen said.
Deputy Mayor Ryan Keim was originally hesitant to consider closing the Brooks Street pool, though he indicated at the Feb. 3 meeting he was interested in looking at the numbers. During the Feb. 24 meeting and final vote, Keim swiftly chose to keep both open.
Councilmember Christopher Rodriguez has been generally opposed to the El Corazon Aquatics Center since the council voted to approve the center’s $43.2 million bond issue.
“I was the only council member that vehemently voted against issuing bonds and moving forward due to poor financial planning that lacked the feasibility of our city to operate a new facility while adequately operating and maintaining the existing pools we have,” Rodriguez said.
He added that he refused to support the budgetary appropriations for the Aquatics Center.
In a letter he wrote a few days prior to the Feb. 24 meeting, Rodriguez asked that the opening of the El Corazon Aquatics Center be delayed to provide better budget planning. During the meeting, he said the responsible choice would be the third option of keeping Brooks Street pool open seasonally.
In the operational plan first proposed on Feb. 3, staff recommended pulling $429,800 from the general fund for the new aquatic center’s operations. That number was adjusted to $340,783 by the Feb. 24 meeting.
Each of the four different scenarios would have still required a subsidy from the general fund for the El Corazon Aquatics Center. Closing the Brooks Street pool would have come at a cost as well.
Though the operations budget for the new El Corazon Aquatics Center projects only $895,000 in revenue for its first year, staff anticipates that number will be higher. Not included in the budget was revenue from the pool’s event center, which staff is anticipating about $250,000 from in the first year.
“That amount is completely speculative due to COVID-19 and with the startup nature of a facility, but we’re basing that on a normal year if we didn’t have COVID with us,” said Interim Neighborhood Services Director Megan Crooks.
The suggestion of closing the Brooks Street pool stirred outrage in the community. There were 30 members of the public who spoke against the pool’s closure at the Feb. 24 meeting, and a protest against the pool’s closure was held prior. Additionally, a petition against the pool’s closure on change.org gathered more than 6,100 signatures.
“In a city where the waves can pull you under, resources like Brooks Street pool are essential,” said CJ Malauulu, an Oceanside resident and coach, at the protest. “How can we afford to take away?
Oceanside activist Bea Palmer compared the suggestion of closing the pool to when public pools were closed or defunded following the Civil Rights Act movement.
“Decades later we are facing the closure of our Brooks Street pool that services the majority of our Latinx or BIPOC (black, indigenous and people of color),” Palmer said during the protest. “History tells us that pools in urban spaces, like Crown Heights and Eastside were replaced by membership clubs and facilities that charged membership fees and were out of reach physically, financially and socially.”
Palmer also called out councilmembers Weiss, Rodriguez and Jensen for perpetuating racial inequality and systemic racism after they voted on Feb. 3 to consider closing the pool.