Mon, Aug

Parents Kicked Off Peck Park Pool Apron … for Safety’s Sake?

MY TURN - Frustrated mother Michael Murray sadly watches her son Bobby Oliver, 13, who struggles with a brain tumor, practice on the swim team.  She sits outside the Peck Park Pool’s fence in San Pedro on a sweltering day.

She’s been banished from inside the pool facility and that terrifies her.

It means she can’t talk to Bobby, ask him how he’s feeling or communicate with him in anyway. She  -- along with scores of parents across Los Angeles – it seems are an unwanted commodity when it comes to watching their own kids during swim lessons, while they are on the swim team – or even recreational swim at Los Angeles city pools.

It didn’t use to be that way at Peck but the new policy makes Murray cringe – and worse -- feel excluded from her own child who has battled with the tumor since the age of five.  She finds herself sitting among  scores of other unhappy parents who can’t comprehend what they’ve do so wrong that they can’t be inside a public facility.

They feel punished for being a parent.

“They rooted all the parents out,” said Murray squeamishly saying she fears all the time how she won’t make it to her son if an emergency happens. “They said people were abusing the pool, but that’s a small portion. It was abuse of a few.

“We have bleachers to sit on on the inside, a water fountain and a new shady area and we can’t use it. Instead, we have to sit in this nasty, dirty corner,” she says peering down at several pieces of chewed gum stuck to the cement along with litter and dirt and a water fountain cut off from her reach by the iron fence. “I just feel cut off.”

She is.

Murray echoes many parents’ sentiments across the board at Peck who were all sitting behind fencing on a hot Tuesday afternoon trying to watch the children but  competing to fit neatly in a tiny square patch of shade offered by the pool’s rooftop outside the facility. They wished, instead, that they could sit inside below a large, brand new shade  the city recently installed.

Instead of sitting on bleachers under the shade, they were packed tightly together in a knot with chairs they dragged in on their own to sit outside the facility – hoping for a spot of shade.

Many of them said they felt like they were prisoners behind the fence, severed  from their own kids, ostracized and punished for being caring parents and fearful that they couldn’t react during safety issues. If they spot a child in danger, they have no quick way to tell the staff.  Worse, they said, they are discouraged from being part of their own family.

“I just feel very isolated,” said San Pedro High Principal Jeanette Stevens, who once enjoyed watching her two children, Taylor, 10, and Teel, 8, swim at Peck from inside the facility about a year ago. “It used to be nice. I could watch my kids. I just don’t get it. You want to keep an eye on your kid and now you’re so distant. The programs are amazing, but it could be so much better.

“Why would you want to go backward?”

The banning of parents and adults from sunning on at the city’s recreational pools while their children swim is a rule I fought against years ago when such stupidity allowed gang members to proliferate at Peck Park pool.

First, I was told it was done for safety reasons. This time, parents said, they were told it happened because some parents were lying. Those parents apparently said they were going to watch and then jumped into the pool without paying the $2.25 fee to swim.

Parents lamented that they were shut out because of a bad few. In any case, they wondered, couldn’t the city come up with something creative such as stamping the hands of those who have paid?

A call to acting recreation supervisor, Trish Delgado, who oversees city aquatics,  was not  returned Wednesday before the posting of the story.

But cutting off parents didn’t surprise me at all.

Years ago, a similar attitude happened among city aquatic folks who seemed to have built a mini-fiefdom in their ranks – that deemed parents and other adults sitting around the pool side a safety hazard along with other rules: No towels on the deck, no food. No fun. The attitude seemed: make the pools as unfriendly as possible. And guess what, that worked!

Peck became a parentless pool. With hundreds of kids without much supervision, a handful of lifeguards served as babysitters, mentors, aunts and uncles, even though many of them were only 17.

In the case of Peck, gang members glorified in taking advantage of the adultless pool and began to throng to the facility. There was no one to call them to account on anything. The lifeguard staff was terrified and who could blame them.

The day this started to change was more than 10  years ago when about five gang members – about 250 pounds apiece and in their 30s – began hurling each other around in the pool. No one stopped them. Suddenly, one gang member flew through the air – slapping down into the pool – a few inches from my son’s head.

I was infuriated.  Another time, a gang member was tossing a tearful 7-year-old around, dunking him repeatedly. The kid was crying – appeared to have trouble breathing   – and had a look of terror that would have broken any mother’s heart. It broke mine and forced me into action.

“Stop it,” I yelled at the gangster. “You’re hurting him. He’s scared.”

“I can do whatever I want,” the gangster yelled back at me. “I’m his uncle.”

No one else intervened.

That was when I decided the kids in our community – whether they are in Watts, San Pedro, or San Fernando Valley -- didn’t deserve this treatment. I spent the next decade – along with others -- battling to get the city to change stupid rules – such as outlawing parents from sitting inside the facility – and to overhaul  Peck’s aging pool. After a $1 million restoration, the pool was opened to families year round  – and families were encouraged to attend—especially by the pool manager at the time.

He knew that true safety meant having more adults on his deck. It provided more eyes and halted his staff from turning into just babysitters for hordes of children who were once dropped off at 9 a.m. and left until 6 p.m. because parents weren’t welcome. He was a smart man.

Having adults -- more importantly parents -- as a second set of eyes changed the entire atmosphere at Peck. Gang member attendance shriveled to zero. Families came together and picnicked and made a day of it. Little girls, who once feared stepping outside of the facility because of threatening boys, didn’t have to worry anymore about leaving the pool. There were too many adults watching.

Aquatic officials often argued with me that in the name of safety parents shouldn’t be hanging around the pool because they cause danger. They interfere with swim lessons and impede in safety when they are lying around the deck, they said.

They claimed in the past it makes it easier for the staff to keep everyone safe.

Does it really?

Actually, I think that it not only takes away good parents it tears down the very fabric of what we so need to build in a giant metropolis of Los Angeles. We need to celebrate families and the health of our community!

Mother Suzie Lind, who finds it difficult to shield her one-month-old baby Nathan from the powerful sun while watching her son Silas, 7, perched outside the facility’s fence just wishes she could sit inside where the city recently propped up a pricey shade. She’s trying to be a great mother, she adds, and isn’t feeling too encouraged with the city’s recent boycott of parents inside the facility – unless they are actually in the swimming pool.

“Last year, they made us start sitting out there,” Suzie said as she carefully shaded baby Nathan with a blanket. “We use to be able to be inside. Last week, (Silas) hurt his leg in the pool and I needed to go in and check on him. I had to get the stroller, and walk all the way around to the front to get inside.

“I can’t leave my son alone. We live in a day and age where you just don’t leave your kid at a pool with strangers.”

Mariela Leon, who comes to watch her three children, Reina, 10, Frank, 9, and Andrew, 8, on the swim team, says she tries to understand it from the city’s point of view.

On the other hand, she really misses the days when the parents of the swim team congregated inside the facility, and mapped out future plans for the team – from bringing the kids snacks for tournaments to determining car pools for different events.

“We just felt more united,” Mariela explained of the parents involvement …  Sitting outside, “changed all of that. It’s not the same anymore.”

Of course, it changed the entire atmosphere.

Leave it to LA to figure out how to tear down the fabric of a family and a community just by lame rules that help no one but the staff – and even more so their bosses, who make thousands off of who – us, the residents and parents who care and love their community and so desperately want to do the right thing – and be with their kids.

Why would anyone in their right mind – city officials or not – use a fence to cut off parents from their children  -- especially a mom who is fighting just to keep her kid alive? And I have an even bigger question: where are our City Council members? Why aren’t they out advocating for us?

Or is this the way they like it: a city with services so unfriendly no one wants to go -- or visit.

Diana Chapman is a CityWatch contributor and has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can reach her at:     [email protected] or her website: theunderdogforkids.blogspot.com) –cw

Tags: Peck Park Pool, Los Angeles Aquatic Officials, parents, San Pedro

Vol 9 Issue 62
Pub: Aug 5, 2011