OAKLAND -- The future of Oakland's Jack London Aquatic Center, which serves everyone from rowing crews to low-income youths, is in limbo after the nonprofit group that manages the facility announced without warning it would hand over management to Oakland because of a lack of funding.
If the Oakland Parks and Recreation Department decides not to take over the facility at 115 Embarcadero, thousands of Oakland youths and adults could be left without the means to experience Oakland's estuary from a sailboat, canoe or kayak. Club crews could be left without a place to store their boats.
"It's a well-used, well-loved facility," said Noah Hume, head coach of the UC Berkeley Women's Lightweight Crew. His rowers are students who pay all the fees associated with the crew and depend on the proximity to the Lake Merritt BART station. That means the newly opened Tidewater Aquatic Center near High Street would be less of an option for them than for other groups.
The city is still working with the nonprofit group to find a way to keep the doors open. But with even steeper cuts to department budgets on the horizon, the center is likely to become one more among a growing list of nonprofits organizations trying to survive without municipal funding, a list that includes the Oakland Zoo, Peralta Hacienda, Chabot Space and Science Center, and Oakland's iconic Children's Fairyland.
It's painful but that is the reality in these extreme times, Councilmember
The city built the Jack London Aquatic Center in 2000 to make water sports accessible to all residents. Boy Scout troops, high school students, youth offenders, Laney College students and adults paid a sliding scale for boating programs such as rowing and sailing.
The nonprofit Jack London Aquatic Center has operated the facility since 2002. Oakland provided a $170,000 subsidy that made up the largest share of the center's income. But trustees of the nonprofit group announced they can no longer afford to maintain the facility and programs because the city slashed its subsidy by 70 percent, and the organization has been unable to compensate for the loss with additional fundraising and grants. Fearing that the subsidy would be cut altogether in this year's budget, the organization's executive committee wrestled with the finances and recommended to the 12-member board that it "wind down relations" with the city, Trustee Fred Brown said.
The nine trustees present Jan. 28 for the vote all supported turning the center over to the Oakland Parks and Recreation Department.
They acted on an assumption that the subsidy would be cut from the budget.
"The city was having money problems and so were we. The handwriting was on the wall," Brown said Monday. The last day would be Feb. 28.
"If you can't program right you shouldn't do it at all," he said. "And that is what we were facing."
The Jan. 28 letter announcing the decision that was received by officials Friday came "out of the blue," Kernighan said. The city is discussing options with aquatic center administrators to keep the center operating even though officials said there is no money or staff to continue the programs.
If negotiations are unsuccessful, the city would have to come up with nearly $450,000 to run the center at full capacity with all programs intact, based on the nonprofit's financial statements. A large part of that money -- $128,000 in the 2007-08 fiscal year -- is spent by Jack London Aquatic Center Inc. on administrative staff salaries. That includes the executive director, development director, an event planner and a bookkeeper.
Program operations, including instructor salaries, also absorbed a little more than $100,000 during the 2007-08 fiscal year.
The rest was spent on costs associated with the building and equipment, as well as insurance, taxes and fees.
The center relied primarily on fundraising, grants and the city subsidy to cover the expenses. Additional income came from boat storage fees and fees for renting the center's Regatta Room, which cost $1,400 for each eight-hour session and is in demand for weddings and business meetings. The city and the Port of Oakland also had access to the facility at no cost.
They received 10 free rentals up to eight hours at a time and do not have to pay the staff costs including preparation and cleanup.
Information about how often they used the facility in the past year was not available.
"When you lose $170,000 it becomes untenable," Brown said. "If the city wants to step up with the funding we will stay."