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Nowhere To Swim: The Impact of Sacramento's Pool Closures, Part 1

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, August 15, 2011

In a sometimes rough neighborhood the Oak Park Pool in McClatchy Park is a gem. It offers a diving pool, a lap pool and a wading pool where water explodes out of a giant concrete mushroom.   

On hot summer days ten year old Devion Dent spends so much time in the pool that by late afternoon his hands are shriveled. He says this place is a refuge for neighborhood kids.

DEVION DENT: I've seen violence in Oak Park, a lot of violence. But when you are in a pool you don't need to worry about them or you don't have to get close to them. 

Devion is lucky to have a pool to swim in this year. Only six of thirteen public pools are open this summer. Next year the situation is going to be worse. The city says the Oak Park pool will be  closed next summer.

DAVE MITCHELL:  Right now we have funding just to keep three pools open for next summer, and no wading pools.

Dave Mitchell is the operations manager for the city of Sacramento Department of Parks and Recreation.

DAVE MITCHELL:  It's just very unfortunate that one of the best opportunities  to keep kids out of trouble, to give them a positive alternative, we just don't have the funding right now to keep them open. I wish we were able to operate all thirteen pools like we were doing for as many years as I have been here and I have been here twenty-five years.

While the pool in Oak Park remains open for the moment, because of deep cuts in park maintenance, the surrounding park already shows signs of blight. The grass is parched in some areas, weeds grow in others.

View Sacramento Pool Closures in a larger map

A  few miles away, in Tahoe Park the situation seems brighter. Trees are neatly trimmed, Well tended ball fields are crowded.

ISAAC GONZALEZ:  A lot of people enjoy this park because it's a nice, safe, clean park. But even twenty years ago it wasn't. There used to be gang bangers in this park and prostitution.  But the neighborhood association, which was started by Darrell Steinberg, came in here, got very active. They were the squeaky wheel that got the grease. And that is why this is a great park today

Isaac Gonzales is part of a new generation of neighborhood association activists.  He says the park is facing the same challenges as other parks in Sacramento.   Because of layoffs, the parks employee who supervised other workers here now works alone.

ISAAC GONZALES: There's one guy that cleans this park and nine other parks. He is 54 years old. He is a  great guy, and he does a good job of it but there is just one, because they cut all the other younger guys out.

To make up for the evaporating  resources, Gonzales has become a change agent. 

ISAAC GONZALES: Yeah I organize clean up events at this park,  and we have done three already this year, where we get about 50 people per event to come out on a Saturday morning, and actually work for four hours cleaning the park.

But one thing he cannot change this year is the fact that, for the first time in fifty years the Tahoe Park city pool is closed.  Gonzales says the closure is not acceptable. 

ISAAC GONZALES:  If we're cutting everything, if we're closing community centers, we're closing pools,   we are not providing our youth with opportunities to do healthy  and safe and legal things, The alternative is they are going to be out there getting in trouble and there's no cops to even arrest them. So this is the snow ball effect that we all need to avoid.

Across town, at Southside Park, with its signature space ship hanging in the air, Catherine O'Brien points to another shuttered pool in one of Sacramento's busiest parks. 

CATHERINE O'BRIEN: This neighborhood, from what I've been told has no pools, not even a single private pool.  I think there is a wading pool next door… a little kid's blow up wading pool. I mean there is no water here.

O'Brien bought a house nearby last year.  The main attraction was the proximity to the pool. Now, like the kids in the playground on a recent  99 degree day, she can only stare through a fence at the pool.

CATHERINE O'BRIEN: It just makes me really sad. We have this fabulous playground here that  is you know a disability accessible playground and it's packed all the time. It's right next to a wading pool that these kids look at and they can't use it, it's dry.

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