McNamara Pool in South Merced to reopen, council assures

abutt@mercedsunstar.comMay 22, 2012 

A combination of renters, landlords and South Merced residents came out in support of two concerns close to their hearts Monday afternoon: the reopening of McNamara Pool in South Merced and an ordinance protecting renters' rights that was up for repeal.

More than 50 people mingled outside City Hall holding signs that said "Save McNamara Pool" and "Protect Your Rights" before the City Council took up both issues at its regularly scheduled meeting.

There was some good news for the South Merced contingent when it was announced that the pool was on track to reopen next month. As for the renters and landlords, there was no decision at Sun-Star press time Monday on the fate of the renters' rights ordinance.

Mayor Stan Thurston told the audience the council was "quite confident" the pool would reopen June 11, thanks to large, anonymous donations from the community.

About 20 people walked to City Hall from McNamara Park on Monday in an effort to keep attention focused on reopening the pool. Tamara Cobb, one of the organizers of the walk, said the city had been helpful in trying to reopen it.

"I'm elated, elated for the children," said Cobb of the reopening plans. "I'm very happy and I'll continue to work on funding for other programs."

This was the second year the South Merced pool, along with other city pools, was scheduled to be closed because of budget constraints. The closure has been a major concern for residents, who raised the issue with the council during a rare town-hall style meeting in South Merced to discuss problems there.

Residents said they were pushing for the pool to reopen to provide a safe alternative for neighborhood children this summer because of the supervision there and the family- friendly environment.

Revisiting the renters' rights ordinance wouldn't have a quick resolution Monday, with more than 30 people scheduled to address the issue.

Passed late last year, the ordinance was brought back to the table after a majority of council members voted to reconsider it.

It has faced heavy opposition from real estate agents who see it as an affront to private property rights, and equally strong support from those who fear being forced from their homes.

Sylvia Prieto, 52, said she has to work four jobs to keep herself afloat. Despite her best efforts, a foreclosure sign showed up in her yard and Monday she pleaded with the council to uphold the law as a lifeline.

"I need to be able to get your support when I need you. Don't throw me in the streets where I have to fight for my four jobs," she said. "I'm tired of crying. I want to get help from you guys."

The law states that foreclosure isn't recognized as a reason to evict renters.

Tenants Together, the nonprofit that brought the measure to the council last year, has said the law spells out specific circumstances in which eviction is permitted, such as when a tenant fails to pay rent or if the owner wants to move into the property, but foreclosure is not a permitted circumstance.

Merced was the 16th city to approve the law when the council initially passed it.

On the flip side, people stepped to the podium Monday night to share bad experiences with renters who had damaged their properties. Others urged the repeal because it was a "a blatant encroachment on everybody's private property rights."

Earlier in the day, Thurston said he was in favor of bringing the ordinance back to the table for reconsideration.

"There seemed to be a lot of interest in looking at it again because it didn't appear it had been thoroughly vetted by council, the public or the stakeholders," he said.

Thurston said the stakeholders would include the tenants and property owners. "The real estate community has some involvement," he said.

Meanwhile, Councilman Mike Murphy said the ordinance deserves "discussion," even though the law has been in effect since December.

He said a weakness of the ordinance is there isn't any protection for renters who might take advantage of the law or commit fraud. However, federal protections, under the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009, say the lease has to be a bonafide lease and at fair market value, he said.

"This is all language that is very easy to add in, it already exists in the federal statute," Murphy said. "It's an important issue for both sides."

Dean Preston, executive director of the nonprofit, said at deadline in an email, "This is a cost-free law that prevents unnecessary eviction, vacancy and blight.

"The law has already saved people from displacement, and there's absolutely no reason to repeal it."

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or

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