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Nowhere To Swim: The Impact of Sacramento's Pool Closures, Part 2

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When Catherine O'Brien moved to the up and coming neighborhood of Southside Park last year, part of the appeal was the city pool just a block from her townhouse. When she heard that budget cuts threatened that pool with closure, she asked the city what she could do. The city said, 'raise twenty thousand dollars to help pay for public swims.' An experienced fundraiser, O'Brien was undaunted

O'BRIEN: I wanted to have a nighttime swim for adults and with a band and a cocktail party and charge people a whole ton of money to come.  It would have been really fun.

Just as she was getting that effort  off the ground, she got a call from the Department of Parks and Recreation. They said…  

O'BRIEN: That we would to have raised the entire amount of eighty thousand dollars by March, this is April when this is happening, by March for the pool to stay open, to run it.  It was a moving target.  But I think there is a broader question. We pay property taxes. We're part of the community. It's hot in Sacramento. We need that to cool down, if nothing else.

Across town in Tahoe Park the pool is full and blue.. But the gate is locked there there too. The water looks inviting because the city is still chlorinating it and pumping it to keep mosquitoes away.

Tonight the neighborhood association is meeting  to talk about the future of the  pool. Tahoe Park residents have formed a committee to explore ways to reopen the pool next year.

Isaac Gonzales is with the neighborhood association and he says he knows it will be a tall order

GONZALES:  This year they cut to the bone, they're going to amputate next year.  They're going to start cutting off limbs.  How are we going to cut sixty five million dollars out of the budget over the next five years when we're closing all the community centers.  We're closing all the pools.  Where else do you cut from? 

Gonzales says innovative solutions are needed. Maybe a door to door fundraising campaign in Tahoe Park.  But he says the city has to cede some control to the neighborhood to cut down on costs.  He says The city budget  of  $100,000-150,000 to run a pool is too high. 

GONZALES: So we have to start talking about these different methods of providing the services the citizens of the city have grown accustomed to or not being a full service city anymore.

Dave Mitchel is  the operations manager for the city of Sacramento Department of Parks and Recreation.  He says he understands people's frustration.

MITCHELL: It's absolutely a travesty. Sacramento deserves more than three pools and I hope we are able to supply and  provide more than three pools for next summer. I think that the way that we would like to approach it is to hopefully find some large donors that would be able to step up and partner with us and then maybe the city along with the community could cobble together the rest of the money

In another neighborhood, Oak Park, On a hot afternoon the pool is open and full of kids shrieking with joy. This  pool was was initially slated for closure  this year.  The city council pressed the department of parks and rec to keep it open because this is one of Sacramento most economically challenged neighborhoods. But now the city says there simply  won't be enough money to keep it open next year.

Carl Pinkston,  is a long time Oak Park activist who works in youth gang prevention. He says all the closures are wrongheaded. .

PINKSTON:   Before we give anything to, to the new arena our parks should be open.  It's a question of priorities.  What is your priority?  Is your priority, is for your community or for those who have financial interests. 

Pinkston calls for citizen action. 

PINKSTON: We cannot take no for an answer.  If they say there's no money, then we should not leave.  We should remain at the city council unless money is made available and the pools are reopened again.

Nobody we talked to in the  city is happy about the pool closures. But unless more creative solutions can be found,  a lot more  kids next summer will be staring through locked fences at closed city pools.

Read/Listen to Part 1 of this series

View Sacramento Pool Closures in a larger map
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