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City Shells Out Millions To Reopen Swim Center, Sets Discussion On Grand Jury Report

After months of updates, several studies, a county inspection and much discussion among one another, the Santa Clara City Council has decided to funnel money into reopening the George Haines International Swim Center (ISC).

The topic ate up a good chunk of the Council’s Tuesday night meeting. When the dust settled, the Council agreed to invest $1.86 million to reopen the ISC. That investment also carries with it $53,005 of ongoing costs.

The ISC has been closed since January because of a slew of safety concerns that will need to be fixed before it can reopen. Among the needed repairs are replastering the lap and training pools as well as the installation of new fences. Even those repairs won’t get the 60-year-old pool fully operational.

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The City’s investment allows the ISC to reopen with several limitations. First, the ISC will have a 200-person capacity. Further, the dive pools and bleachers will be unusable, meaning no competitions can be held there.

The Council’s decision to inject money into the pool without assurance that it will remain operational went against City employees’ recommendation, which was to shutter the pool permanently while planning for construction of a new one. Doing so would have saved roughly $400,000 a year in utility costs.

“I know the City has failed, including the Council as well as the staff,” said Council Member Raj Chahal. “Everyone involved in the City has failed. If you see these pictures, they didn’t evolve in a day or a month or something like that, so that has been a failure on the part of the City where we are today. We should take responsibility for that, and I feel sorry for that, the situation we are in right now. It is really, really bad.”

The repair is likely a sunk cost, said Cynthia Bojorquez, assistant city manager. Getting the pool operational for temporary use means the City will most likely need to do the same repairs when a more permanent solution is determined, she said.

City Manager Jovan Grogan iterated that the ISC is just one of the City’s many infrastructure needs.

“This City conducted study after study of its deferred infrastructure, and at some point, we are spending money studying things, and we know what needs to be fixed,” Grogan said.

“The ISC had a report done nearly seven years ago, or over seven years ago, that determined it was end-of-life, and a number of the things that were identified in the recent study that cost over $300,000 were identified 10 years ago,” he continued. “So, we know the problem. Santa Clara’s challenge is that it doesn’t have the money to fix it.”

While a proposed infrastructure bond, if passed, could help with the cost of building a new swim center, it is just one of $600 million in projects earmarked.

Despite recommendations from City employees, the Council saw fit to spend the money. Many said they didn’t view the expenditure as one for infrastructure. Instead, the Council saw it as an investment in keeping the Santa Clara Swim Club — a group with a storied history of producing Olympians — alive.

Amanda Pease, president of the Santa Clara Swim Club board, said the club is spending between $60,000 and $80,000 a month to secure water for its members. If the club needs to continue spending that much, it will bankrupt them. The club has already increased dues and lost roughly 20% of its members because of it. City employees have been “zero help,” she added.

The club has historically enjoyed a sweetheart deal with the City where it paid $20,000 a year with a $20,000 grant for competitions. Grogan said the City will renegotiate with the club to help recoup some cost for the City while allowing the club to avoid market-rate pool rental.

“My fear is that we will not exist to return, nor will there be an ISC to return to should the pools be drained,” said Julie Corrigan, the club’s manager.

Mayor Lisa Gillmor shared that sentiment. She maintained her steadfast support of the City heavily subsidizing parks and recreation services such as the ISC. While the legacy of the Santa Clara Swim Club is very important, she also noted how important the pool is for the larger community.

“If we shutter it, we are shuttering it almost for good,” Gillmor said. “If I could give everything free, I think that’s what we owe our community. Our community paid for those facilities in taxes and other things. They belong to the community.”

Council Member Kevin Park acknowledged that keeping the ISC open may not be a priority for a large segment of the population. However, Olympians are also not a large segment of the population, he added. Park saw the gamble as a worthwhile risk to give the rich legacy of the club a chance to survive.

Council Member Karen Hardy was the lone dissenter, calling the expenditure “fiscally irresponsible.” She said a financial consideration was before the Council, not a decision to ensure a beloved club stays in Santa Clara.

“We cannot, as a Council, close our eyes to our realities. We cannot change the past, but we can change our futures,” Hardy said. “We have to make some tough decisions tonight.”

Still, Hardy’s Council colleagues fell on the other side of things. The motion passed in a 6-1 vote.

Council Set To Duke It Out Over Grand Jury Report

Discussion of a civil grand jury report critical of several Council members will be on the Council’s next agenda. Brought by Gillmor and Council Member Kathy Watanabe, the proposal to discuss the report, titled “Irreconcilable Differences,” saw unanimous approval.

The report pointed fingers at the Council majority for poor behavior.

Gillmor said the item was the “most important” item on Tuesday’s agenda.

“In order for us to maintain public trust after that report came out, and [let] our public know that our Council Members are going to act with integrity, transparency, accountability and ethical standards, in order for us to maintain public trust, we need to talk about it,” she said.

City Attorney Glen Googins told the Council it has until Sept. 12 to respond to the report’s findings and recommendations.

For the findings, the Council has the option to either agree or disagree with the finding, with possible explanation. For the recommendations, it has four options: put the recommendation into practice, not put the recommendation into practice but declare it intends to, declare further analysis is needed prior to a decision or state it will not put the recommendation into practice.

City Manager Jovan Grogan said another, perhaps special, meeting will likely be necessary to tackle the entirety of the response needed.

Vice Mayor Anthony Becker said he was “glad” Gillmor and Watanabe brought the item forward.

“I am glad we are going to have this discussion,” he said. “I think all of us have a lot to say.”

SVP Contract Prepares For Santa Clara’s Continued Growth

The Council also approved a $35-million-a-year contract for Silicon Valley Power (SVP). The 10-year contract with Los-Angeles-based Westlands Grape secures resource adequacy (RA) for SVP.

RA is a state regulatory construct designed to ensure cities have enough energy available under peak conditions. It requires cities maintain 115% of forecasted peak capacity capability. Securing RA — in this case 150 megawatts worth with an option for an additional 74 megawatts — is different from buying energy, which the company sells separately.

Manuel Pineda, SVP’s chief electric utility officer, said SVP will have a shortfall beginning in 2026 and the contract is necessary to “fill the gap.” Failing to do so could result in stiff fines from the state or see SVP paying more to secure RA down the road as the market becomes more volatile.

The Council unanimously approved the contract.

Consent Calendar Spending

  • $685,000 in contracts for work on the Lick Mill Boulevard storm drain pump station:
    • A $155,000 contract with TrueBlue Automation Services to diagnose and repair the pump controls.
    • A $325,000 contract with Shape, Inc. for emergency removal, diagnostics and repair of two pumps.
    • A $205,000 contract with PAC Machine Company for temporary pumping capacity.
  • A $233,875 increase to an agreement with Accela, Inc. to purchase additional licenses for Land Management Software. Total contract amount is now $2.87 million.
  • A $576,727 increase to a contract with NUVIS Landscape Architecture, Inc. for new entrance, access and parking improvements at Central Park.
  • A $5 million, four-year contract with the California Highway Patrol for traffic management at Levi’s Stadium.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, July 9 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.

Members of the public can participate in the City Council meetings on Zoom at https://santaclaraca.zoom.us/j/99706759306; Meeting ID: 997-0675-9306 or call 1 (669) 900-6833, via the City’s eComment (available during the meeting) or by email to PublicComment@santaclaraca.gov.

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4 Comments
  1. Buchser Alum 4 weeks ago
    Reply

    I am not upset at the huge cost to make some temporary repairs to create limited reopening of the swim center but I think that I am with Karen Hardy on this one.
    .
    We are all proud of the accomplishments of the swim club and the role Santa Clara has played in olympic swimming excellence. But keeping up with the costs of maintaining the swim center is no longer sustainable for the city and has not been for a long time and that is why it is falling apart.
    .
    What other public olympic caliber swim centers exist around the country and are there any located in cities the size of Santa Clara? What has the swim club done to try to find the funding necessary to keep the swim center going other than lobby the city to have us all pay for it?

  2. SC Resident 4 weeks ago
    Reply

    Wait… so a few weeks ago actual volunteer run youth sports leagues that serve almost entirely Santa Clara youth were told by some on the council that they don’t believe in giving things away for free, but the Santa Clara Swim Club gets this when they have been paying only $20,000 to use the facility? Look at their financials…https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/941432138/202312869349301961/full, 4 people are paid a total of $640,000 per year combined by the swim club, including one salary over $200K.

    But the youth sports leagues have been paying more than the swim club for less use of facilities, are 100% volunteer driven and actually give back to Santa Clara’s youth are the problem with the city budget…..

  3. Sara 4 weeks ago
    Reply

    Thanks for covering this meeting. I think it will be great to learn more about how our city is going to finance these large expenditures. I don’t think the bond measure will pass this Nov since it’s quite a large ask for homeowners to increase property taxes. I agree that throwing over $2 million at the current pool isn’t responsible and pretty unfair in that it will benefit a smaller group of residents. Kudos for those who advocated…seems like if you make a big deal about something you’ll get your way.

  4. Buchser 3 3 weeks ago
    Reply

    I favor the City employees’ recommendation to shutter the pool permanently while exploring plans for future construction. They indicated this would save our city $400,000 a year. Instead our Council chooses an intermittent fix which shall only end in total disaster. As Amanda Pease, president of the Santa Clara Swim Club, stated this action shall result in their club spending well over $60,000 each month just to secure water for its members, which shall eventually bankrupt them. Council Member, Karen Hardy, I congratulate you for making the correct choice.
    As for the two latest Civil Grand Jury Reports, my prediction is that they will be firmly rejected by our City Council. Then shortly after that, a fourth Civil Grand Jury Report will follow, likely just before the November elections. And in the coming year or so, we can expect a 5th and 6th report. This shall continue until Lisa Gillmor is no more.

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