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CITY AND SCHOOLS TO INNER CITY CHILDREN: GO JUMP IN A LAKE

NEWSLETTER SPRING 2008

In the summer of 2007, the community demanded that the new Olympic size pool at Miguel Contreras high school be open after school and on weekends. Miguel Contreras is in the most park-poor assembly district in the state of California — a community where 65% of the population within three miles is Latino, 27% are children, 35% live in poverty, 63% have no access to a car, and 39% of the children are obese. A year later, city and school officials are telling the community to go jump in a lake. The pool will be open only for about 300 high school students lucky enough to get into a summer school swim class – and off limits to everyone else. We criticized this result on the Channel Five News and the Downtown News did to, to no avail.

City and school officials ask if they open the pool, how will they keep children away from the rest of the school? Easy. Put portable showers and lockers around the pool. Or put gates and locks between the pool and the classrooms. And open the rest of the school fields to the park-starved community along with the pool so children and their families and friends have places to play — and to engage in physical activity to fight obesity and diabetes.

City and school officials say people can use the Echo Park pool half a mile away. That’s true. However, the 563,179 of the people within three miles of Miguel Contreras would be better served by both pools. There is less than half an acre of parks per thousand residents.

City and school officials say, gee, we did not think about sharing parks, schools, and pools before, but we’ll think about it when we build new parks, pools, and schools from now on. Baloney. City Controller Laura Chick called for the shared use of parks and schools in her 2005 audit of parks and recreation. The Citizens’ School Bond Oversight Committee has demanded shared use of parks and schools since 2000. The classic Olmsted Plan in 1930 called for shared use of parks and schools in the Los Angeles region. City and school officials are only now figuring this out?

Sadly, yes, and they still can’t get it right. Miguel Contreras reflects the need for a master joint use agreement for parks, schools, and pools. The City Council and school board have called for such a study. The study is being conducted behind closed doors without community input. Read The City Project letter calling for the joint use process to be transparent, include the community, and address unfair disparities in access to park, school, and health resources.

The lack of places for physical activity at Miguel Contreras and parks, schools, and pools across the city is killing our children — in the long term through higher obesity and diabetes rates, and on a day to day basis through gang violence.

Councilman Ed Reyes recently emphasized the need for places to play to combat gangs and violence at a City Council meeting: “These are problems that we have. The gang issue. We put a lot of money, a lot of policy language, discussion, meetings, but we haven’t looked at the core issues of what causes gangs, and that is the ability for children to live near parks, to have diversion, so that they are not sucked into the gang culture.” “The end consequence is that the kids in our neighborhoods are being shot to death. Our kids don’t have a place to play. They don’t have baseball diamonds, they don’t have soccer fields. . . . We need to put our policy language in line with our realities. I hope this Council understands that it does take a brave act to do what’s right, and that we should sustain our policies so that we can allow for whole communities to live near parks.”

Joint use of parks, schools, and pools is not rocket science. “In terms of the existing facilities, both on the city’s side and the school’s side, it’s just a matter of leadership and us working together to make that happen,” Councilman Jose Huizar told the City Council.

See and read about the furor about the Miguel Contreras pool being closed to neighborhood children.