As Orange County’s summer heats up, many residents are wondering what’s their best option for cooling off at a local pool?
Voice of OC found only a few cities offer a lot of options for residents to take a public dip.
Less than half of Orange County’s 34 cities have at least one public pool not located at a school.
And while some officials question the cost-benefit of pools vs. libraries or community centers, climate change has some experts wondering whether access to a local public pool might be essential in the future.
California is in its driest period on record and officials across the state, including in Orange County, are placing water use restrictions on residents, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Trevis Matheus, a Cal State Fullerton Assistant Professor in the Geography and Environment department, said while he has mixed feelings about public pools, he believes they are a better alternative for the environment than everybody staying home individually.
“It’s kind of like public transportation, it’s better to be on a bus or a train than it is in your individual car,” he said. “It’d be better to have a bunch of people and a bunch of households cool down all at once in a pool then it would be for everyone to stay home and blast their air conditioners.”
Cities That Invest In Pools
The city of Santa Ana hosts more public pools for its residents than any other city in the county with five public pools managed by the city, two of which are currently closed for repairs according to the city’s website.
Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said in a Tuesday phone interview that having public swimming pools is important because many of the city’s homes and developments don’t have a pool to swim in.
“These public aquatic spaces help our children and families learn how to swim, most importantly, and give them a place to gather as neighbors,” Sarmiento said.
The public pools in Santa Ana are open from late May to early September when adults can pay $2 and kids can pay $1 to swim recreationally for an hour and a half, according to the city website.
Swim lessons are also available at a price through Blueray Aquatics, who supervise the city’s pools.
Many of the public pools across Orange County are in the northern cities and offer recreational swimming for a small fee as well as other more costly programs like swim lessons.
City of Orange Spokesman Paul Sitkoff said Orange has an “aquatic facility with a two pool configuration” at Hart Park that is open in the summer for both classes and recreational swim.
Meanwhile, Anaheim – the largest city in the county and host to one of the largest resort districts in America –only has one public swimming pool that opened up almost 100 years ago back in 1924.
Recently, there have been calls among some residents along with one city councilman for Anaheim to expand community services like public swimming pools.
City spokesman Mike Lyster notes that the city has historically instead focused on building community centers and libraries, arguing they are a better fit for Anaheim than pools.
Further south, the City of Irvine has two aquatic centers and Mission Viejo has two recreation centers with pools and jacuzzis managed by the city.
Irvine’s William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center has two 50 meter pools and an instruction pool, according to the city website.
The City of Irvine’s learn to swim program is one of the largest city swimming programs in Southern California.
Irvine offers recreational programs like water aerobics as well as instructional and competitive swimming programs.
Irvine also has a pool at the Northwood High School Aquatic center, and is looking at developing a new training headquarters for USA Water Polo in the city’s Great Park that could also serve as a public pool.
Meanwhile, San Clemente has an aquatic center equipped with a 50 meter pool and 25 yard activity pool and on their website advertises programs like private rentals, summer recreational swim and lessons.
The city also advertises the Ole Hanson Beach Club on their website as part of their aquatics program which has a 25 yard lap pool.
According to the Ole Hanson Beach Club website, the city “operates year-round community-based swimming and recreation classes” at the club.
Cities Without Pools
Voice of OC also found that at least five cities in Orange County didn’t offer any public swimming programs at all.
Residents in Yorba Linda and San Juan Capistrano have in the past questioned that.
The City of Yorba Linda does offer swim lessons at their local high school from June through the beginning of August.
But there isn’t a municipal pool available for recreational use despite residents asking for one as early as 2014.
That year, the city put out a poll asking residents what kind of improvements they wanted to see in the master plan, and a city pool was the second most popular answer to the question “What is the ONE type of recreation facility you would MOST like to see added in Yorba Linda to meet the needs of the members of your household?”
The top spot went to new hiking trails.
San Juan Capistrano also doesn’t have a pool, and while the city marked it as a “desired recreational amenity,” in an assessment of the city, there’s never been any money set aside for the project according to city clerk Maria Morris.
Other cities like Villa Park aren’t interested in building one, with city manager Steve Franks pointing to the city’s small size making it unfeasible.
“The City has never had a pool. The City is only 2 sq. miles and is over 90% residential,” Franks said in an email to Voice of OC reporters. “We only have one park in the city, and that is a pocket park…that was finished just this year.”
Dana Point doesn’t offer any public pools but sits on the coast.
Stanton, one of Orange County’s smallest cities in the urban core, also doesn’t have a public pool.
Neither does Tustin, according to emails from city staff.
“The Tustin Unified School District operates pools at the three high schools in Tustin (Tustin, Beckman, Foothill) but it is not known if those pools are open to the public,” reads an email from Stephanie Najera, a Tustin spokesperson.
The cities of Cypress, Laguna Hills and Lake Forest did not list any public pools on their city websites and did not respond to requests for comment from Voice of OC, leaving it unclear what services those cities offer.
Pools at Schools
Other cities offer swimming programs to the public by utilizing pools at local schools.
The city of La Habra usually offers swimming programs at both Sonora and La Habra High Schools, but isn’t this summer because both pools are being repaired according to the city’s website.
The city of La Palma doesn’t have any public pools, but uses JFK High School’s pool for swimming lessons in the summer and hosts workout classes for seniors at the La Palma Intercommunity Hospital’s pool, but those classes have been put on hold since the start of the pandemic according to the city’s website.
Seal Beach’s community pool is located at McGaugh Elementary school.
Newport Beach offers lap swimming as well as summer swim lessons at the Marian Bergeson Aquatic Center at Corona del Mar High School.
Summer swim lessons at Newport Harbor High School were closed this year due to school maintenance.
Meanwhile Laguna Beach High School & community pool is operated in partnership with the city and the Laguna Beach Unified School District, according to the city website.
Homeowner Associations Also Fill Gaps
While many cities in South Orange County don’t manage public pools of their own, they rely on someone else who does- homeowners associations.
In Rancho Santa Margarita, there’s not one public pool managed by the city, but there are at least five managed by homeowners associations according to their websites.
“Rancho Santa Margarita is a Master Planned Community where over 90% of the residents belong to one of these three associations,” said deputy city clerk Madeline Balsz in response to an email from Voice of OC reporters asking if the city had any municipal pool programs.
The city of Laguna Woods had a nearly identical response when asked why the city didn’t operate any pools-homeowners associations run at least 13 pools according to their postings online.
“The city does not own or operate any public pools. However, nearly all residents have access to one or more pools operated by their residential communities,” said City Clerk Yolie Trippy.
Santa Ana’s Mayor Sarmiento said municipal spending on parks, libraries and city programming like pools don’t just improve quality of life but are critical to the very notion of public safety.
“You may not think that parks or swimming pools or libraries have anything to do with public safety. Well it does,” he said, noting that those kinds of outlets are really important for young people whose energy can go into less constructive areas when not channeled into things like pool laps.
“If you’re doing something constructive and positive, it prevents you or gives you an outlet, as opposed to doing things that maybe you shouldn’t do.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.