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Public options and the common good

A brief backstory: The 1983 decision to construct Daniel Meyer Pool (DMP) in Hunter Park was predicated on the belief that it should be a seasonal public outdoor pool, owned and operated by the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission. And when completed, it would complement the only other public pool in Ashland: Southern Oregon University’s indoor pool.

In 2015, however, SOU made the decision to close its pool, resulting in many of the displaced aquatic groups turning to DMP as a singular local option, though it was never designed to be a year-round competitive pool.

But then two things occurred simultaneously: The demands on DMP increased while the end of the pool’s useful life was fast approaching (at 36 it was aging out and health and safety issues were becoming paramount, causing the 2019 season to be truncated). And so, APRC found itself at a crossroads. A decision about the future of the pool had to be made. I’m not sure what discussions took place regarding closing DMP and simply making the site a part of Hunter Park. I do know that APRC had early on been attempting to judge what support existed in our community for a public pool.

And so began in earnest the process of measuring what had only been anecdotal. How important was a public pool to the community? What part did DMP play in contributing to the quality of life in Ashland?

APRC held “listening sessions,” conducted a random survey, and a Pool Ad Hoc Committee of locals and staff was formed. Finally, APRC concluded that there was in fact a committed and enthusiastic segment of the community that wanted above all to find a way to keep DMP as a public option and that it made an important contribution to the common good.

To think about this process is to realize how extraordinary it has been, especially when contrasting it to what is now taking place on the national scene.

Democracy can be messy, maddeningly slow, and at times outrageously imperfect. At times it felt as if the fate of DMP hung in the balance. Some insisted that a “world class” public aquatic center was needed, beyond seasonal, with a multitude of adjunct options. Others pointed out that the perfect could be the enemy of the good and advocated for a plan that, while year-round, should still be viably fundable, meaning a pool created for a quilt of people from swim teams, master swimmers, to children and seniors, as well as recreational/lap swimmers.

The result was a white paper based on the Pool Ad Hoc Committee recommendations. The price estimate is $2.6 million, a cost that will be linked to revenues from food and beverage taxes and Ashland’s City Council has now greenlighted the project.

DMP will continue as a place where people from different parts of the community will come together, the pool enhancing our community’s shared experiences. By definition, that is an important residual benefit of all public options and inclusivity is its fulcrum (though our nation’s history has not always mirrored our stated values).

The recommitment to DMP is but one example of a democratic process, one too often taken for granted. Of course, there will always be a tension between social equality, public options, defining the common good and the benefits of the marketplace. But as a people it is our stated purpose to strive for a balance.

One last thing: I have spent more than a few summers at DMP swimming laps. It has enriched my life immeasurably. I have shared the lane lines with a spectrum of people, and I’ve come to realize that DMP is not just about swimming but about community, the magic of coming together to share a common interest and purpose. It is also a remarkable, tangible iteration of E Pluribus Unum.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.