Residents in Anaheim – a city with a population of nearly 346,000 – only have one public pool to learn to swim, exercise in or simply cool off from the summer heat.

And that pool is only free to use for a three-hour block on Saturday and Sunday afternoons this summer. During summer weekdays and weekend mornings, the local YMCA uses the pool to teach swimming lessons at a cost.

Recently, some residents and at least one city councilman have called for more city spending on community services like public pools in Anaheim – a city that was forced to borrow money to balance its budget after the pandemic shut down the Disneyland resort area for a year.

“​​The residents deserve to be flushed with the critical city services, community centers, senior centers, libraries that are open seven days a week, top of the line parks with playgrounds and swimming pools, as well as the staff that will be needed to operate all of these services,” said resident Jeanine Robbins at the July 19 city council meeting.

In an interview at the city’s sole public pool on Monday, Anaheim resident Kari Rodriguez said she would like to see more public pools in the city so her son, who is learning to swim through the local YMCA, can practice.

“When it’s hot sometimes we want to get out and being in the water is fun for him. It’s not just going to the park and he sweats, but right here it’s cool. He’s in the water, he loves it,” Rodriguez said.

Nearby cities like Buena Park, Garden Grove, and Placentia have two public pools, according to city websites and an email from Placentia city staff.

Santa Ana, with nearly 310,000 residents, has 5 public pools – two of which are currently closed, according to the city’s website.

City Spokesman Mike Lyster said in an email Tuesday that there are other community services better suited in Anaheim than pools.

“While pools are great, community centers and libraries better reflect how Anaheim serves our community. Pools come with high construction and ongoing operational costs and are used by the public only a few months out of the year,” Lyster wrote.

“Community centers and libraries serve our residents year-round,” he added. 

In a follow up email, Lyster said the pool is used by the Anaheim Aquatics Association’s competitive swim team for training when the demand for public swimming is not high.

“It is open for swim lessons and public swimming from March through November,” he wrote.

Anaheim Councilman Jose Moreno said he has questioned why the pool is not open year round and he said the issue was staffing.

“That’s a budget question,” he said in a Tuesday phone interview. “We contract with the YMCA to manage our pool because we don’t have the staffing to do it ourselves.”

A boy learns how to swim at the Pearson Park pool with help from a YMCA instructor on July 25, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Can Anaheim Afford to Build Another Pool?

Lyster said while the city has looked at building another pool they have no immediate plans to do so.

“Our most recent look put the cost of building a pool at $10 million, including lockers, showers, equipment and administrative space, plus $350,000 for ongoing maintenance, operational and staffing costs,” he wrote.

Moreno said he proposed the 2% ticket tax on large entertainment venues like Disneyland since the city can’t afford to build another pool or expand existing community services.

Last week, city officials turned down an opportunity to put a proposed measure on the November ballot asking voters if they wanted to implement the ticket tax.

City staff estimated the 2% ticket tax could have generated up to $82 million in tax revenue for the city at a time when city officials have been forced to borrow money to balance their budget and are facing pressure from residents to address quality of life issues.

[Read: Borrowing to Meet Budget, Anaheim Passes on Disneyland Ticket Tax]

Proponents of the measure, like Moreno, have argued that the money the potential ticket tax was expected to bring in could have been used not only to build additional pools in the city, but for a senior center.

“Year after year, I’m told by our city staff, and other council members will themselves say we can’t afford those things, then at some point, you have to look at revenues to support the needs we have in Anaheim,” he said.

Moreno said that public pools, like other community spending, is a matter of access.

“We have a resident population that tends to be working poor – most of whom cannot afford homes that have a pool,” he said. “The mark of a healthy strong City is one that is able to provide public recreation.”

Moreno also said it’s about safety and preventing drownings by teaching people how to swim.

According to the Orange County Fire Authority, there were 114 drowning incidents in the county in 2019.

Residents are not just calling for more public pools. They want other services too like libraries open seven days a week and a stand alone senior center.

Moreno said the city doesn’t have the resources under the current revenue structure to meet their responsibilities to residents when it comes to community spending.

“In terms of our budget, we spend 10 cents of every dollar of our General Fund on Community Services,” he said. 

“Much of our current budget goes to public safety, two out of $3 goes to police and fire. We absolutely have to increase revenues so that we can look at public safety in a more comprehensive way around public health (and) public amenities that produce greater health outcomes.”

Anaheim City Council members allocated about $172 million of the city’s $409 million general fund to police spending and about $41 million for community services, according to the city’s 2022-23 adopted operating budget

That means Anaheim spends 42% of its general fund on police, while spending 10% on community services.

Lyster pointed out that the city has 10 community centers and 7 libraries – which he said is the most in OC.

“We also have the county’s only bookmobile that each week visits neighborhoods where residents may have a challenge getting to libraries,” he said.

Lyster also said that the city has three senior centers that are part of the East Anaheim, Downtown Anaheim and Brookhurst community centers.

The Pearson Park pool on July 25, 2022.

YMCA Swim Lessons at Pearson Park

Currently, Pearson Park – Anaheim’s first city park – is home to the only public pool in the city, according to their website, which is used by Anaheim Family YMCA to teach swimming lessons at a cost.

The park pool opened in 1924 and costs $150,000 a year to maintain, according to Lyster.

“Lessons and public swimming are run and managed by the Anaheim Family YMCA, which saw $182,000 in costs in 2021. A portion of proceeds from swim programs goes back to the city,” Lyster wrote, not stating how much money the city gets from the programs.

During weekdays, costs for group swim lessons during the summer at Pearson Park range between $77-79 for a 35 minute lesson with limited spots available.

 A 35-minute private lesson costs $225.

Adults can also pay $48 to swim laps in a section of the pool for 35 minutes during weekdays with limited spots, according to YMCA 2022 swim schedule for Pearson Park.

Weekend lessons at Pearson Park advertised on the YMCA website are cheaper. They offered weekend sessions in Spring and are expected to do so in Fall.

On weekends, from June 18 to Oct. 9, the pool at the park is free to the public between 2-5 p.m. but residents must register in advance with the YMCA for an hour and half time slot.

Click here to register for YMCA’s free public swim at Pearson Park.

Buena Park charges $1-$1.50 for recreational swimming at their pools, according to their website and in Garden Grove it’s $2 per visit for people 2 years and older, according to their website.

Anaheim’s YMCA also offers swimming lessons at Anaheim High School’s pool and Canyon High School’s pool as well as other schools in nearby cities.

Anaheim resident Doa Alkam’s children take lessons at the park and she said she brings her kids to the pool everyday, including weekends, to practice.

“This is the only one that offers (swimming) during the weekend free and the prices for lessons are good compared to others,” she said.

Moreno compared booking swimming lessons to getting Harry Styles tickets.

“If you’re not on there at 10 in the morning, right when the online portal opens, you’re not going to get in. It’s so high demand.”

Noah Biesiada contributed to the reporting in this article.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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