Oceanside is on a spending binge. Thanks to an extra $11 million coming in this year from the Measure X sales tax increase approved in November, the city council voted to rebuild its downtown fire station and remodel beach bathrooms which became embarrassingly run down.
The biggest windfall comes this fall. The bond on its 30-year-old city hall complex will be entirely paid off, allowing Oceanside to redirect that bond (as if it were a line-of-credit loan) into another major investment.
“Our headquarters are inadequate,” Oceanside Chief of Police Frank McCoy said at the annual budget workshop April 17 held in front of the city council. “We are [headquartered] in what used to be a grocery store and a Miller’s Outpost.”
Demands for Chief McCoy’s police force are exploding. Last year Oceanside’s 911 operators fielded over 182 calls a day on average.
Police spokesman Tom Bussey says he and other cops who were on the force didn’t mind when they moved into their current digs 20 years ago. “But we were told that it would be only for ten years… Our evidence room is in the other side of town in East Oceanside and we don’t even have a training center.”
The plan was that Oceanside, like Carlsbad, could one day get its own complex that would house fire and police operations in one civic safety center. Donna McGinty has lived in Oceanside since she was a baby. She’s been speaking about public safety at city council meetings for about half of her 77 years. “They have outgrown it,” says McGinty about the Oceanside police headquarters. “Plus, it’s in a bad location. Because of the way the city has grown, [police headquarters] are not in the center of the city any more. If they moved it to El Corazon, that would put it in the center of Oceanside.”
But Oceanside has other plans for El Corazon, the mostly undeveloped 465 acres the city acquired for civic use in 2003. El Corazon is described in promo material as "...in the heart of our city between Mesa Drive and Oceanside Boulevard and El Camino Real and Rancho Del Oro Drive." Council members won’t say they are anti-cop. It’s just they have other priorities when it comes to major infrastructure needs. Instead of emulating Carlsbad’s safety center, Oceanside is now on track to build an Olympic-sized pool at El Corazon like Carlsbad’s Alga Norte.
“It’s something we’ve been pushing for the last five or six years as a community,” says Scott Wagner, El Camino High swim coach. “The two pools we have right now are old and insufficient. They can’t support swim meets or water polo meets.” But why can’t Oceanside high school athletes continue to use use Alga Norte? “Carlsbad is further away and it’s heavily used. We’re a community of 180,000 and we have the land for it. It’s now just a matter of getting bids.”
The El Corazon aquatics center would be about six miles from Carlsbad'a Alga Norte pool.
But why is the city infatuated with building its third swimming pool, an Olympic-sized $23-million beauty, at El Corazon complex instead of dealing with police needs?
“Personally, I would love to have a new police station,” says city councilman Christopher Rodriguez. “A police station with its own jail cell is a need, but our community wants an aquatic complex.” Besides, he says, the cost of building a new safety center would well exceed $100 million. “It would be four or five times the cost of the aquatic center. I think it would be more realistic to find additional space [for the police].”
Rodriguez caused a stir last month when he suggested on social media that the city may have to close the Marshall Street pool in South Oceanside which, like the other city pool at Brooks Street near Oceanside High School, was built in the 50s. “It costs $650,000 a year to maintain those two pools. And it will cost another $500,000 a year to maintain the new aquatic center at El Corazon.”
Brooks Street Pool is just east of I-5 near Mission Avenue. Marshall Street Pool is in South Oceanside just west of I-5 one block from California Street. These two community pools are three miles apart.
While the council recently voted to keep Marshall Street open through this summer, Rodriguez says some big decisions may have to be made eventually about Oceanside’s two 60-year-old pools. “We have to make certain decisions. The Brooks Street pool is actually sinking into the ground. It was built on a garbage dump. If Brooks Street becomes unsafe, we’ll just have to shut it down.”
Rodriguez says the estimates to repair a sinking Brooks Street pool are over $500,000.
Meanwhile the Brooks and Marshall Street pools are used by the Oceanside and El Camino High School water polo and swim teams to practice. The El Corazon aquatics center would become home for the high school practices and CIF meets while freeing up the other two pools for community swims and youth swim classes.
Brooks Street aquatics technician Phillip Polen says there are not enough opportunities for all the local kids who want to learn to swim. “We could have swim lessons all year long. It’s like concert tickets. The last time we opened up sales for them they sold out in 12 minutes.”
Brooks Street pool supporter Brian Long pays for needy local children who would not otherwise learn to swim. His Waterproof Oceanside group covers the $37 fee for some 100 sessions throughout the summer at Brooks Street. “A lot of these kids live a mile from the ocean, yet without the ability to swim they aren’t able to recreate in the ocean as swimmers. We also offer junior lifeguard program scholarships.”
Former city councilwoman Shari Mackin defies Rodriguez to close Marshall Street pool. “If he thinks he’s closing it down he’s got another think coming. You can judge the quality of a city by its parks and recreation. They improve life for kids and families.” Mackin says this is not the first time her neighborhood pool has been threatened. “They tried to shut Marshall Street down before. They also tried to privatize it.”
Funny you should mention: Rodriguez says he wants to privatize the pools once the El Corazon Aquatic Center arrives. “I’d really like to hire a private firm to manage our pools and run them like a business. We’re not doing a good job as a city running our pools. It’s hard to find staff. It doesn’t pay very well. If we privatized them they would be maintained and marketed better to the public.”
But what about the staff who teach Oceanside kids to swim each summer? “I would like to see them rehired by the new company,” says Rodriguez.
One problem with Rodriguez and his bullishness on the El Corazon Aquatics center might be the $500,000 amount he says it will take to run it each year. “That is ridiculous,” says former Deputy Mayor Chuck Lowery. “Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall told me that the total operating cost for this pool will be at least $2.5 million a year, because that’s what Carlsbad actually spends on their Olympic pool.”
At its April 24th meeting the city council agreed to hire RNT Architects of San Diego to help oversee the bidding and construction of the El Corazon Aquatics Center and authorized the city engineer to put out bids for its construction. The city allowed RNT to charge up to $522,746 for its services.