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Sonoma pool supporters seek city help with land purchase

To keep afloat a deal that would allow them to build a community swimming pool at a former resort in El Verano, advocates need Sonoma city officials to toss them a line.

Members of the Sonoma Valley Health and Recreation Association raised more than $1 million to purchase Paul's Resort, once a popular holiday destination. But they still need about $500,000 to complete the land purchase, said Paul Favaro, the association's board president.

The group is turning to the Sonoma City Council for the money. It must have a total of $1.7 million by the Aug. 19 closing deadline.

Council members are expected to hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday to decide on whether to lend the group the cash and, if so, under what conditions.

Favaro is optimistic about the prospects for city assistance and in the association's ability to raise enough cash to build the pool complex at the site, which was destroyed by fire last year. He said they'll soon be ramping up their fundraising efforts. The project is estimated to cost $10 million to $12 million, Favaro said.

'We have so much support from people in the community,' he said. 'Once this thing gets off the ground, the community will make it happen.'

Having a community pool helps the city provide for public safety and senior health for Councilman David Cook, who will be overseeing Thursday's meeting after Mayor Tom Rouse recused himself because he sits on the association board with Favaro.

'A lot of people don't have access to pools,' Cook said. 'I don't want to see drownings go up because a lack of swim lessons.'

Although there are private facilities in the city, Favaro, who was a competitive swimmer as a child, said many residents can't afford them. Many children, particularly those from African-American and Latino homes, don't know how to swim because they can't access a pool, he said.

'It struck me as a great missing piece for a city like Sonoma,' Favaro said about the project, which calls for two full-size pools, a gym and multipurpose rooms.

He said he's working on getting an extension on the closing deadline from the resort owner, Yvonne Marcucci-Thibault, who inherited the six-acre property from her father and was willing to give the association more time.

'We have been working quite well to accommodate their needs,' said Marcucci-Thibault, who encouraged the city to support the project. 'I back them up. And I believe in their effort and their sincerity.'

Cook said he and the two remaining council members — Steve Barbose and Laurie Gallian — will consider lending the group the money and having them pay back the loan by providing local children with swim-lesson scholarships.

Councilman Ken Brown also sits on the association board and also is expected to recuse himself from the meeting.

Rouse, who recused himself from an earlier meeting where the money request came up, said senior residents would benefit from water-aerobics classes and other pool activities. Rouse said he isn't sure he'll be attending the meeting. However, he hoped fellow council members would move forward with the deal.

'Everyone should have access to a pool,' Rouse said. 'And everyone should know how to swim. We have creeks. We have oceans. For God's sake, we're on the West Coast.'

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com.

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