July 2, 2007
Open the Miguel Contreras Pool
It is a travesty that the Olympic-sized pool at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex is closed to the public because of a budget battle. City officials need to get on this right away and find the funds to make the state-of-the-art facility accessible to an amenity-starved community. This must happen now, because in case those involved have conveniently forgotten, it’s hot out here.
Last week Los Angeles Downtown News reported that the pool, part of a $160 million City West high school, remains open only to students, and that the best the city has come up with so far is perhaps to open it a few hours a week for children’s swimming classes. In open defiance of the bureaucratic sludge, people are breaking in after hours, leaving beer bottles and other litter in their wake.
Officials from the Contreras school, along with Los Angeles Unified School District brass, want the pool to be open to the community. The sticking point, however, seems to come from the city, and even after months of talks, officials on both sides of the issue are bickering about the cost of lifeguards and other operational matters, with estimates that it would take between $50,000 and $200,000 to open the pool for the summer. A staffer for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told Downtown News, “I don’t picture a huge public pool there. It’s just not going to happen.”
It can happen. It should happen. The dream of a public pool was part of what put the school on the fast track with the community. Villaraigosa, who has made a habit of touting all the great things about Los Angeles, should help make it happen. It’s not cheap by individual household standards, but it is highly economical, compared to the price of the school, and should have been budgeted from the start. It’s also a good financial deal when you consider the cost of cleaning up after mischievous kids with nothing to do.
Less than a year ago, city and LAUSD officials were eager to share the credit for the school, a massive campus that was touted for its design and its amenities for neighbors. The pool becomes even more necessary this summer while the Colton Street pool in City West remains closed for renovations.
This is one of those situations that never should have reached this point, and the LAUSD is not without blame. District officials said they turned to the city after a deal with a nonprofit operator for the pool fell through, and we wonder about the negotiating and deal-making prowess of an entity as historically troubled as the District.
Theoretically, a creative and persuasive District or Mayor’s office could secure a corporate sponsor for the pool, like USC with its McDonald’s Swim Stadium. All the studies show that there is a disproportionately large amount of disposable income in the neighboring geographic area. A corporate sponsor of the pool would buy a lot of customer loyalty, and there are numerous major Downtown Los Angeles businesses that could step up to the plate, ones that would benefit from that community. They’d even get a little press, and as we have stated before in these pages, there’s nothing wrong with enlightened capitalism.
Now, the city is being asked to come up with funds, but no one is speaking very enthusiastically. The Department of Recreation and Parks, the operator of the pool if the city takes over, had little to say about the matter to Downtown News.
We know there are safety and other issues, and that any plan to open the pool needs to ensure that the school is secure. But this is not rocket science, and it’s not like the city was suddenly caught unawares by a pool that magically arrived. Plans have been in the works for years.
Find the funds. Open the pool. Stop the excuses. Give the community what it deserves this summer.